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Rights of Children in Juvenile Court

What should I do if I am stopped by the police?
Cooperate, but you don’t have to tell the police anything more than your real name, address, and phone number. Don’t lie about this. The police will figure it out if you haven’t told the truth, and you could be charged with another offense if you lie. If your case goes to Children’s Court and you don’t show up because you gave a false address, a bench warrant for your arrest and detention could be issued for failure to appear at your pretrial hearing. Even if a police officer is disrespectful to you, you should stay calm and be polite, without confessing to anything or telling him or her everything he or she wants to know.

What are my rights if I am arrested?
You have the right to remain silent, the right to talk to a lawyer, and the right to know why you are being arrested. If the police want to ask you questions other than basics like your name and date of birth, they must tell you your basic rights. They will ask you to sign a piece of paper saying that you were informed of your rights. The officer will ask you if you want to sign a waiver of your rights. If you sign the waiver, you agree to give up your rights including the right to remain silent or have an attorney present when you are questioned. If you talk to the police, it is possible that everything you tell them can later be used against you in court. The police may tell you they will go easy if you tell, but the information you give can still be used to charge you with a crime. As a rule, you do not want to waive your rights. As soon as you tell the police you do not want to waive your rights, they must stop questioning you.

How do I find a lawyer?
Normally, you will not need a lawyer until you are formally charged with a crime or "delinquent offense," although it may not hurt to consult with counsel as soon as you think you might have charges filed against you. When a petition is filed against you an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office is automatically appointed. Even though you have a lawyer, your parents must still go to the Public Defender’s Office and formally apply for the lawyer. If your family is low income your lawyer is provided free of charge. If your family is required to pay, they may either agree to sign a contract with the Public Defender’s Office or hire a private attorney to represent you. Either way, the law requires that you have an attorney by your side in Children’s Court, no matter how minor the charge.

Must my parent be with me when I am questioned by the police?
Not necessarily. But it is a good idea. In some places the police officer will ask whether you wish a parent to be present when you are questioned. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to have both a lawyer and a parent with you. In general, you should never talk to a police officer unless an adult is there who can represent your interests. You may be worried about your parents finding out, but they will find out anyway if you are charged, and it is better to try to avoid legal trouble to begin with.

What can I do if a police officer physically or verbally abuses me?
Avoid getting into conflict with police officers. Don’t fight back or you can be charged with a new crime. If a police officer is abusive, be sure to remember his or her name and badge number. If you wish to file a complaint, go to the police station and request an internal affairs complaint form. You can sometimes hire a private attorney who will agree to sue the police department for substantial damages if the abuse was severe.

How might I get involved in Children’s Court, and how does a case begin?

  1. Something happens and the police respond to a call.
  2. Your name appears on a police report, or you are arrested.
  3. The case is referred to Juvenile Probation.
  4. There is a preliminary inquiry conducted by a juvenile probation officer (JPO).
  5. If the delinquent act is a felony, it is protocol that the case be referred to the Children’s Court prosecutors.
  6. If the delinquent act is a misdemeanor, the JPO can decide to not make the referral to prosecutors, but can deal with the case alone. (If you have multiple misdemeanors, the case will probably "go up" or be referred for prosecution review.)
  7. If the JPO decides to deal with the case, he or she has several options which include setting informal conditions on you to prevent filing a case, such as: community service, family therapy, attending school, staying out of trouble, and drug or shoplifting education courses for you and your parents
  8. If the charges do "go up," you will receive a copy of the petition, the charging document and notice of your first appearance date in court.
  9. A public defender (attorney) is appointed immediately if you are arrested, and within three to five days of the filing of a petition. The public defender will send a letter to you with contact information.

How long can I be held in detention?
It depends. Detention times vary greatly. If an officer thinks you committed a crime, he or she can arrest you and detain you at the nearest juvenile detention facility. Your case is then quickly reviewed by a judge to make sure that the police had a good reason to arrest you. If the judge doesn’t think the police were right, you will be released as soon as a parent or responsible adult shows up for you and has a safe place for you. If you are not released at this point, you will be brought before the judge with your attorney within three days, not counting weekends and holidays. Your attorney has to be with you. At that hearing, the judge will make sure that you understand the offense with which you have been charged. The judge will also make sure you understand your rights. Then the judge will ask you whether you want to admit to the charge or deny it. (In almost all cases it is best to deny the charges.) Then, if possible, your attorney will argue for your immediate release. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge may or may not let you go. If you are not released, you will remain in detention no longer than 30 days before you go to trial.

Do I have the right to deny the charges against me and have a trial?
Yes. The U.S. Constitution gives everyone the right to deny the charges brought against him or her and have a fair and speedy trial. At the trial, the state must prove that you committed the act beyond a reasonable doubt. You have a right to be physically present at all crucial hearings in your case. If the state calls witnesses at trial, your attorney will question them on your behalf. You have a right to testify and can bring in other witnesses to testify on your behalf. Remember, however, you have a right not to testify. You have the right to remain silent and the state must prove the charge against you.

What happens if I admit to the charges?
This depends on the facts of your case. If you admit to the charges, the most lenient sentence that juvenile court can give you is six months of probation, followed by a dismissal of the conviction at the end of the six months if you have successfully complied with all the terms of probation. The maximum sentence is a commitment to the Boys’ or Girls’ School. This commitment can be as long as two years.

Extensions of that commitment are also possible. Your attorney can tell you what you can expect for specific charges.

What is probation?
It means the state will supervise you. Probation usually requires that you follow more than a dozen requirements. These will include regular contact with your probation officer, obeying your parents or custodians, keeping a curfew, not staying out overnight without your probation officer’s prior approval, and getting formal written permission from the probation officer before you move. In addition, you must not use or possess alcohol, any illegal drug, or any weapon, nor be with anyone using or possessing alcohol, illegal drugs or weapons. Probation may also include driving restrictions. You also may be required to pay restitution, do community service, or complete an educational program. Personal or family counseling is often required as well.

What happens if I violate probation?
If your probation officer believes you have violated your probation, he or she can ask the Children’s Court attorney to file a Probation Revocation Petition against you in Children’s Court. A warrant can be issued for your arrest. Later at trial, if the judge finds you did violate probation, you could be sentenced to a longer period of probation or time in the Boys’ or Girls’ Schools.

Could I go to the Boys’ or Girls’ School for violating curfew or some other minor violation?
Probably not. If you have never been in trouble with the law before, a curfew or other minor violation will result in a referral to Teen Court or some other informal disposition through the Children, Youth and Families Department. However, if you are already on probation and/or have a number of prior referrals to the system, even a minor violation can result in very serious consequences, including going to the Boys’ or Girls’ School.

Is it possible that I could be tried as an adult?
Yes. If you are 14 to 18 and charged with certain offenses such as aggravated assault, dangerous use of explosives, or murder; or if you have been convicted of three or more felony level offenses within the last three years, you may be prosecuted as an adult. This puts you into a special category called either youthful offender or serious youthful offender. These types of cases are governed by the adult Rules of Criminal Procedure.

If you are a youthful offender who is convicted of a crime, you will have a special sentencing hearing, the amenability hearing, to determine whether you will be treated as a juvenile or an adult at sentencing. The judge will consider your history, the nature of the charges, and psychological evidence about your ability to be rehabilitated.

Does my sentence end when I turn 18?
No. Your probation or commitment ends at the time set by the judge during your original sentencing. For example, if you are sentenced to two years of probation the day before you turn 18, you could be on probation until the day before your 20th birthday. However, if your are 18 or older, probation or parole officers could release you early under certain circumstances.

How can I keep my juvenile record from affecting my adult life?
You have a right to seal your juvenile court records two years after the end of your formal contact with the juvenile system (for example, two years after the end of a probation period). At that time, you may file a simple motion in district court to seal your records and make them confidential. This seal is not automatic. You must file this motion yourself, or hire a lawyer to do it for you.

Special Note - This information has been issued to inform and not to advise. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of writing. The statements are general and individual facts in any given situation may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. You should always seek advice from an attorney if any questions arise. This document is intended as a public service and is not an endorsement of any attorney or law firm.