If your child is in trouble in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, and you have begun to interview criminal defense attorneys you are likely left with a dizzying array of facts, predictions, and consequences about your child’s situation. It is important to hire the lawyer you think will do the best job for your child, but how do you make that assessment?
DO NOT HIRE A LAWYER WHO TRIES TO SCARE YOU
I frequently get calls from parents who have already spoken with one or two other lawyers before calling me. By the time I talk to them, they’re convinced their child is going to be removed from the home and sent to a Los Angeles County probation camp even when their child has never been in trouble before, does well in school and is facing a relatively minor petty theft or drug offense. Of course, for more serious offenses and repeat offenders there can be serious consequences. But no matter what the charges are, listen carefully when interviewing a lawyer. Is the lawyer just telling you all the horrific consequences for your child or your family and then talking about how he or she is the only one that can save your child, or is the attorney actually giving you specifics about how he or she would approach the case? Is the attorney able to clearly explain how juvenile court operates and at least give the beginnings of a coherent case strategy? Is the attorney asking you questions about your child and your family or is the attorney just talking about himself or herself? Listen carefully and don’t fall for the fear.
DOES THE LAWYER HAVE RECENT JUVENILE DEFENSE EXPERIENCE?
Most criminal lawyers do not handle all that many juvenile cases, and while many of these attorneys are very fine lawyers, they are not always up to date on the latest changes in the law or techniques that can be used to achieve the best results. It is essential that your child’s lawyer is up to date on all the latest juvenile statutory and case law. Factors such as your child’s educational history, mental history and physical health can all have an impact on the outcome of the case. This is much different from adult court. Your child’s lawyer needs to be aware of how to address these issues.
DOES YOUR LAWYER HAVE A PLAN?
If your child has a good case to take to trial, then by all means it should go to trial. But if you are going to go to trial, your lawyer better have done some research about the bench officer who will decide your child’s fate. Remember, there are no juries in juvenile court. The judge (or bench officer with similar duties to a judge) will decide your child’s guilt or innocence. If the case is not going to trial, does the lawyer have a solid plan to negotiate a disposition with the prosecutor? Is the lawyer going to do a thorough review of your child’s background and present all the appropriate information to the DA or the court? Remember, this is not adult court. The court wants to feel comfortable that your child is not going to re-offend and is “under control”; your lawyer needs to have a plan to do that.
DOES YOUR CHILD TRUST THE ATTORNEY?
Maybe you think this does not matter, but your child needs to have some rapport with the lawyer. After all, your child is the client, not you (that’s the law). Your child is much more likely to be cooperative and helpful if he or she trusts the lawyer and feels like he or she can talk to him. While you, as the parent, will be an integral part of the process, the lawyer is required to speak with your child without you or anyone else in the room and must not disclose anything your child does not want disclosed. Some parents do not like this, but this level of trust is important in getting the best result for your child, which is exactly what you want.
Jerod Gunsberg is a criminal defense attorney. If you want to find out if I practice what I preach, call me for a free consultation at 310-210-0744.