What to expect if your child is arrested

You never thought your child would be in this position, but here he or she is. Police arrested him or her, and now you have a million questions about what comes next. The juvenile system is quite a bit different than the adult criminal system, and for good reason. The goal of the juvenile system is to help, rather than punish, children who make questionable life choices that result in their arrest. 

A juvenile, any child age 17 or younger, who ends up in police custody, is automatically in the South Carolina juvenile justice system. Schools or a Circuit Solicitor may also recommend placement in this program. What happens next depends on several factors — such as age, current criminal charge, prior criminal history and intake interview results, among other things. 

The interview

Directly after referral to the Department of Juvenile Justice, the staff at a local DJJ office will have the opportunity to interview the child. If law enforcement deems it necessary, they may take the child to a detention center where detention center staff can complete the interview instead. Based on the interview results, the DJJ will then make recommendations regarding how to proceed with the case. 

Options

It is up to the Circuit Solicitor to ultimately decide how to approach a juvenile case. This individual may choose to:

  • Divert
  • Dismiss
  • Prosecute

A case may qualify for diversion if there is a need for the child to make restitution for his or her offense, but prosecution is not necessary, or a community program — such as arbitration or drug court — seems the better option. Case dismissal is possible if the Solicitor feels no action is necessary. 

If they decide to prosecute

If the Solicitor decides prosecution is necessary, the case passes on to family court. A judge will hear the case and request the completion of further evaluations before determining if the child is guilty or not guilty. If not guilty, the removal of his or her case from the juvenile system will occur. If guilty, the judge will either sentence the child to a detention center or probation. Eventually, the child will be eligible for release, parole or probation, and, finally, removal from the juvenile system. 

How long a child spends in a detention center or on probation varies per case. It may only be a few months, but it may be until they reach the age of 21. 

You do not have to fight alone

A child arrested can be a frightening thing for the child and you as the parent. You may feel alone and out of your league as you navigate the juvenile justice system, but know you are not alone, and you do not have to fight for your child by yourself. With the right assistance, you can achieve the best possible outcome.