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Day One: Juvenile Court in DC

Today was my first day "picking up" juvenile clients in DC. I was nervous but excited to start representing kids facing delinquency charges.

I have a lot of experience working within the juvenile justice system from my time mentoring and advocating for young people who were already committed to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services - the DC agency that oversees young people who a judge has determined requires supervision and services. This is my first experience being on the front end of the system, though, from intake to arrest to initial hearings and forward.

Early in the morning I was assigned one client and one stand-in. A stand-in is a client you represent on the day you are picking up cases in court but you don't keep that client. The client has another attorney who, for whatever reason, is not able to be in court to represent the client on that particular day. You treat the client as if he were your own and do all the things you would normally do if you were representing him throughout the entire case.

The government and Court Social Services (CSS - the juvenile probation department) were requesting that my stand-in client be detained at the juvenile detention facility, the Youth Services Center. I was trying to get my client back to the group home he had been residing in. As required by statute, before a judge can detain a juvenile pending further court hearings, there has to be a probable cause hearing to determine whether the juvenile is a danger to the community or risk of not appearing in court the next time. The judge should also consider whether there is enough initial evidence to show that my client was involved in the alleged offense.

Unfortunately, I lost that probable cause hearing. That is fairly typical. It is difficult to argue against the police version of events when you have not had time to investigate and gather your own evidence. You can, however, use the probable cause hearing to cast doubt on your client's involvement or bring out other evidence the police may have but isn't provided to you in your initial discovery. It is not an easy thing to do because you're not supposed to use probable cause hearings for discovery purposes and you have very little time to prepare your questions. But you should always try.

My other client from the morning, who I will remain the attorney for throughout the case, was placed on what is called a 5-day hold. That means the government was not ready to proceed with filing the petition (a document charging the client with an offense). They needed an extra day to speak with the complaining witness (the term defense attorneys most often use for alleged victims). So we were rescheduled to come back to court on Friday. They didn't ask for my client to be detained in that case, though, and I was able to successfully argue for a later curfew given my client's after school activities so we had a minor win.

During pick up, you have to stay in court until the cutoff time for bringing in new arrestees. On weekdays, that time is 3:00pm. At around 2:45pm, two new young people were brought to court. One was a runaway who needed a stand-in but ended up having someone from the PINS (Persons in Need of Services) panel handle that case. Young people charged under PINS are not being accused of criminal offenses, but rather offenses that can only be committed by kids, such as truancy, running away, etc.

The other young person who came in so late was charged with a delinquency offense so I was assigned to him as well. The government and CSS were not asking for him to be detained but they had already filed a petition to move forward with the case so I will be representing him throughout his case as well.

The day went pretty much as expected. I enjoyed meeting with my clients and starting to establish a rapport with them. I learned a lot more about the inside court process since I'm finally the one going through it with my clients. And I'm looking forward to how the cases develop from here.

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