South Carolina Juvenile Justice Protecting Children's Best Interests

Children who face criminal charges, along with their families, may have some concerns about the legal process. They may feel compelled to ask advice from a South Carolina juvenile defense lawyer about student alcohol and drug charges, an alleged assault, burglary or sexting. But the first thing they need to know is that juvenile crimes are prosecuted in the Family Court system involving different procedures than adult crimes, with important exceptions.

Recent discussion about reforms of the South Carolina criminal justice system has advocated a holistic approach to the experience of children within the criminal justice system, both as victims and as alleged juvenile offenders. "If you have a juvenile who has done something wrong, you can't treat that child in isolation. You've got to go out and look at the family, look at the neighborhood," Bill Byars, a former family court judge, former director of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the new head of the SC Department of Corrections recently told the Greenville News.

Under Byars's leadership, the number of South Carolina juvenile referrals and detentions dropped drastically, whereas the system previously had a reputation for turning some juvenile offenders into hardened criminals, and was ultimately subjected to federal judicial oversight. But recognizing that high rates of domestic violence and other difficulties play a complex part in children's lives, Byars and others advocate that various government agencies must cooperate and share resources to best use scarce state funds and better serve young people.

The South Carolina Juvenile Justice Process

Juvenile cases can proceed in various ways after a boy or girl has been referred to the DJJ. The prosecutor, known as the Circuit Solicitor, can divert the case to drug court, juvenile arbitration or another community program, or require payment of restitution. Based on DJJ interviews of the juvenile and the circumstances of the alleged offense, the Solicitor may also decide to dismiss a case.

If the Solicitor decides to prosecute, the delinquency determination and sentencing will be carried out by a family court judge - there is no right to a jury in South Carolina juvenile trials. But one major exception exists: a juvenile 14 years of age or older may be tried as an adult if charged with certain felonies, based on a variety of factors. For juveniles under 16, such determinations must be made in Family Court.

In all cases, a consultation with a juvenile criminal defense attorney can provide a great deal of additional detail about the prospects for prosecution and possible legal strategies. Regardless of the level of crime involved, sound legal advice can make a great deal of difference in a child's life with future interests at stake.

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