Attorney James Sullivan is Board Certified in Juvenile Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2004. He is a recognized expert in the highly specialized area of juvenile law.
Juvenile Law is different than criminal law. Many criminal defense lawyers advertise that they are also juvenile defense lawyers, yet they may never have tried a juvenile case to a jury. In order to hold oneself out as a true expert in Juvenile Law, a lawyer has to be Board Certified in juvenile law. To become Board Certified, an attorney must
- have been licensed to practice law for at least five years,
- devoted a required percentage of practice to a specialty area for at least three years,
- handled a wide variety of matters in the area to demonstrate experience and involvement (including at least 3 jury trials, 5 non-jury trials and 3 certification hearings),
- attended continuing education seminars regularly to keep legal training up to date,
- been evaluated by fellow lawyers and judges, and
- passed a 6-hour written examination.
The parents of children caught up in the juvenile justice system are very concerned about how their child’s misdemeanor or felony delinquency case could impact their future. This is a very valid concern. Colleges and universities have access to juvenile records. Clearly, a juvenile delinquent is less likely to receive a highly coveted admission to a top school. Also, law enforcement has access to juvenile records. When juveniles are stopped by the police, they may be treated differently when the police know that they have a record. There are several other ways that a juvenile record could impact your child.
If your child needs a juvenile defense lawyer, you can call Attorney James Sullivan right now at 281-546-6428.
A recent case in Illinois illustrates the importance of attorneys providing strong legal defenses to their juvenile clients. Many juvenile lawyers have the mistaken belief that they should be seeking what is in the child’s best interest first. Instead, they should be providing a zealous defense. If the child is later found to be delinquent, then it is at the disposition (punishment) stage that their client’s best interest are considered. A lawyer’s first duty is to fight for their client.
This article entitled “Court: Even juveniles deserve strong defense” by Christopher Wills appeared in the Houston Chronicle on August 30, 2012.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Lawyers are supposed to win cases for their clients. Lawyers in the juvenile justice system want what’s best for troubled children.
And when the two impulses are in conflict, the attorney should focus on presenting the best possible defense, a deeply divided Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ordered a new trial for a teenager known as Austin M., who was found guilty — or “adjudicated delinquent” in legal terminology — of sexually abusing two foster children living in his home in 2005.
The justices ruled that Austin was denied a proper trial in 2007 because his lawyer mixed his duty as a defense attorney with concerns about what the parents wanted and what would be best for the teen in the long run.
Juveniles, like adults in criminal cases, deserve “an attorney whose singular loyalty is to the defense of the juvenile,” Justice Anne Burke wrote for the majority.
Children’s advocates applauded the ruling. It promises to improve the legal counsel minors receive, they said, and reduce confusion created by the current system where lawyers often wear two hats.
“I anticipate this decision will be read widely around the country,” said Bruce Boyer, director of Loyola University’s Civitas ChildLaw Center in Chicago. Many states balk at the cost of appointing both a defense attorney to fight the charges and a guardian to consider the child’s best interests, he said.
In Austin’s case, attorney Anthony Novak said at the trial that he and Austin’s parents wanted to establish the truth of the situation and get the defendants treatment if necessary. He acknowledged that he wasn’t handling the case the same way he would if an adult were accused of the crime.
Novak did not cross-examine the foster children who accused Austin and co-defendant and brother Ricky in confusing and sometimes contradictory statements. He also didn’t challenge testimony about a one-sentence confession Austin supposedly made to police.
Because of that confession, which Austin and his father later denied he made, Austin was found guilty and sentenced to probation, while his brother was acquitted.
Novak was not formally appointed guardian ad litem, the person responsible for protecting a minor’s interests in court, but the Supreme Court found he essentially took on that role instead of aggressively fighting the charges.
“The minor is entitled to an attorney who is dedicated to providing the minor with a zealous defense, an attorney who will hold the prosecution to its burden of proof. The time for ‘best interests’ considerations is at the disposition phase,” said Burke, who was joined by three other justices Thursday.
Two others agreed Austin’s conviction should be overturned but objected to a new trial, arguing there wasn’t enough evidence to support the charges.
The seventh member of the court, Justice Robert Thomas, disagreed entirely. He said the majority decision “is completely unfounded and finds no support in the record.” He scolded the majority for demeaning “a fine performance” by Austin’s defense attorney.
Novak was on vacation and couldn’t be contacted immediately, his office said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which fought Austin’s appeal, would not comment. The Ford County state’s attorney did not immediately return a call asking whether Austin would be retried.
Jacqueline Bullard, an assistant state appellate defender who handled the case, said Austin served his sentence of two years’ probation and 50 hours of community service, but would not disclose anything else about him or his life.
But she said Austin would have a strong incentive to fight the charges if tried again. Unless the charges are dropped, Austin must register as a sex offender.
“Getting this black mark off his name is certainly important,” Bullard said.