Juvenile Law


Massachusetts Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Successfully Defending Juveniles

Being prosecuted in juvenile court is frightening for any juvenile. The formality of the proceedings alone can be incomprehensible to those accused of delinquency. In most cases, juveniles at least grasp that the conduct for which they stand accused was unacceptable, or even illegal – such as possession of alcohol or even assault & battery. But, unfortunately, there is an alarming trend among law enforcement to charge juveniles for conduct that, until recently, was correctly dismissed as the result of simple immaturity, better dealt with by parents than probation officers.

To properly represent a juvenile charged with a crime, a criminal defense lawyer must develop a rapport with not just the client, but his parents. Kevin J. Mahoney has been representing juveniles for nearly twenty years. By patiently listening to his client, painstakingly reviewing the charges and accusations with him or her, and explaining the proceedings he earns the trust of his young client. Juveniles have proven to be some of Attorney Mahoney’s most challenging clients and, more often than not, the most rewarding to help. If you would like to meet with Attorney Mahoney to discuss your son or daughter’s case, give us a call at 617-492-0055 to set-up a free consultation or use our online contact form.

Cambridge Criminal Lawyer: The Juvenile Justice System

The criminal justice system has long purported to recognize the difference between the “delinquency” of children and the “criminality” of adult offenders. The United States Supreme Court has chimed in, noting that “the State has a ‘parens patriae interest in preserving and promoting the welfare of the child’ [making] a juvenile proceeding fundamentally different from an adult criminal trial.” Schall vs. Martin, 467 U.S. 253, 263 (1984).

In Massachusetts, G.L. c. 119, §53, states unequivocally that the delinquency code (G.L. c. 119, §52 thru §63) “shall be liberally construed so that the care, custody, and discipline of the children brought before the court shall be approximate as nearly as possible that which they should receive from their parents, and that, as far as practicable, they shall be treated, not as criminals, but as children in need of aid, encouragement and guidance.”

Reality: A Criminal Proceeding

Although the juvenile court may have been created to foster the positive development of wayward youths in need of care, reassurance and guidance, in every important aspect, the juvenile court is, today, a criminal, rather than a rehabilitative, court. The benevolent intentions, if any, of those who created the court have been supplanted by institutional underpinnings and goals of the adult criminal court; that is, to hold accountable and to punish. Andrew Walkover, The Infancy Defense in the New Juvenile Court, 31U.C.L.A. LAW REVIEW 502 (1984). Even the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court admitted as much in Commonwealth vs. Rodriquez, 376 Mass. 632 (1978), noting that despite legislation declaring juvenile delinquency proceedings non-criminal, “the delinquency process has assumed a kind of criminal character. . . .” A juvenile accused of a crime, therefore, needs a criminal defense attorney to safeguard his rights, especially if his liberty is in jeopardy.

As in adult criminal court, the accused in juvenile court is:

  • prosecuted by the county’s District Attorney’s Office;
  • arraigned before a judge;
  • subject to pre-trial detention;
  • subject to being detained on bail;
  • subject to pre-trial release conditions;
  • subject to pre-trial detention for violation of release conditions;
  • tried before a judge or a jury;
  • subject, if found guilty/delinquent, to a lengthy term of incarceration

Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

The Juvenile Court has, pursuant to G.L. c. 119, §52, jurisdiction over children between the ages of seven and seventeen who are accused of violations of a city ordinance or municipal or state law. The Juvenile Court also has jurisdiction over:

“juveniles” with unresolved cases who have reached the age of 17 or 18;

adults charged with:

(a) failing to force their child to attend school;
(b) contributing to the delinquency of a minor; and,
(c) wilful neglect or abandonment of a child.

Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court for Prosecution

The District Attorney’s Office may request that the Juvenile Court hold a hearing to determine whether the juvenile’s case should be transferred to the adult court for prosecution where:

  • if the offense with which a juvenile, 14 years or older, is charged would be punished by a state prison sentence if committed by an adult and the juvenile has been previously committed to D.Y.S.; or,
  • if the offense with which a juvenile, 14 years or older, is charged involves the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm.

The Rights of a Juvenile

In 1966, the Supreme Court, in Kent vs. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), held that, since juveniles charged with criminal offenses potentially suffered the same loss of liberty as their adult counterparts, they should not be denied the constitutional safeguards afforded adults. Later Supreme Court decisions restored to juveniles:

  • the right to adequate written notice of the charges;
  • the right to be represented by a lawyer (a criminal defense attorney may be best positioned to protect the juvenile’s rights and, if possible, to secure an acquittal);
  • the right to remain silent;
  • protection from coerced confessions;
  • the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses;
  • protection from unreasonable searches and seizures;
  • the right to an acquittal unless the government persuades the jury beyond a reasonable doubt as to the juvenile’s guilt/delinquency;
  • protection from being tried twice for the same offense (double jeopardy); and,
  • protection from cruel and unusual punishment.


Formal in court appearance by juvenile and his parents. The court will, at this time, charge the juvenile with a delinquent act and the juvenile will enter a plea of not delinquent. If you or your son or daughter is scheduled to be arraigned in juvenile court, we strongly recommend you retain a qualified Massachusetts criminal defense attorney.

Pre-Trial Detention Pursuant to G.L. c. 119, §68

Conditions That Trigger Detention Hearing

The juvenile court may recommend that a child who has attained the age of fourteen be held in a secure detention facility if the child:

  • is a fugitive from another jurisdiction on a delinquency petition; or
  • is charged with a violent offense for which the Commonwealth may proceed by indictment against him; or
  • is already detained or on conditional release in conjunction with another delinquency proceeding; or
  • has demonstrated a recent record of willful failure to appear at juvenile court proceedings; or
  • has demonstrated a recent record of violent conduct resulting in physical injury to others.

Detention Hearing

Judges may take any or all of the following factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to detain a juvenile:

  • juvenile’s previous record, including previous defaults;
  • stability of the juvenile’s family;
  • parents’ presence;
  • parents’ ability to control/discipline juvenile (or, in the alternative, the ability of responsible relatives to control/discipline);
  • school attendance and grades;
  • participation in school activities;
  • employment, if any;
  • family responsibilities;
  • counseling, if any, juvenile is undergoing; and,
  • juvenile’s use of alcohol/drugs.

Potential Places of Detention

  • special foster homes;
  • places of temporary custody commonly referred to as detention homes of the department of youth services; or,
  • a juvenile between fourteen and sixteen charged with murder in the first or second degree may be committed to the custody of the sheriff of the county in which the court is situated.

The Trial

The juvenile accused of a delinquent act, as stated above, has essentially the same rights as an adult accused of a crime. Unlike an adult tried in District Court (who is entitled to a jury of six), a juvenile is entitled to a jury of twelve. The rules of evidence and of criminal procedure apply to the trial, including the right to cross-examine witnesses. For more on trials, click here.

Delinquency Adjunction Might Affect the Juvenile

Although a juvenile cannot emerge from a trial or other juvenile court disposition with a “criminal” record, a delinquency finding can be used against him:

  • in setting bail or determining whether to hold the juvenile in pre-trial detention for any subsequent charges;
  • in deciding the severity of any disposition of subsequent or unresolved juvenile proceedings;
  • by the Registry of Motor Vehicles to revoke his license; and,
  • in any subsequent adult criminal cases, including decisions to hold him under G.L. c. 58A (as a dangerous person), to set bail, and at any sentencing hearing following a conviction.

Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge, Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer