Do You Need a Lawyer for a Juvenile Drug Charge in SC?
If your child is charged with a crime in SC’s juvenile court (Family Court), it is not only a good idea to have an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer represent him/her, it is required by the Court.
Drug charges can be a serious matter for juveniles, just as they are a serious matter for adults. If your child is charged with a drug offense in the juvenile court, there is benefit from representation by an attorney who has extensive experience defending drug crimes as well as experience representing juveniles in the Family Court.
In this article you will learn:
- why a juvenile charged with drugs in SC needs experienced counsel,
- the types of drug charges and the possible penalties in the juvenile court, and
- how a person can go about getting a juvenile criminal record expunged.
SC Juvenile Charges in Juvenile Court
The law requires a juvenile charged with drugs in SC to have a defense lawyer – a child charged with any crime in SC’s juvenile courts is required to have an attorney represent them in court.
If a juvenile’s family cannot afford to hire a defense lawyer, the Court will appoint the Public Defender’s Office to represent them. SC Code Section 63-19-1040 states that the Court must “determine the financial ability of the child’s parents to retain counsel for the child.”
If the Court finds that the parent can afford counsel but they do not hire someone, the Court will appoint a Public Defender anyway, but “the Court may order the parents to reimburse the Indigent Defense Fund or pay the court-appointed attorney in an amount to be determined by the Court.”
Either way, your child must have an attorney to represent him/her in juvenile court.
Juvenile Drug Charges in SC
A juvenile charged with drugs in SC might be facing the same range of drug charges that adults face, although the penalties are different if the case is heard in the juvenile court.
Simple Possession is when a person possesses a small amount of a drug for “personal use.” The minimum amount, or “threshold,” varies depending on the type of drug. For example, someone will be charged with Simple Possession if they are found with:
- Less than an ounce of marijuana
- Less than a gram of cocaine, crack cocaine, or methamphetamine
- Less than two grains of heroin (one grain = .065 grams)
Possession with Intent to Distribute
A juvenile charged with drugs in SC will automatically be charged with possession with intent to distribute, or PWID, if the drugs found weigh more than the threshold amounts listed above.
Other factors the Court considers to determine whether drugs were for personal use or intended for distribution/sale include other details as well, like whether the drugs were packaged for resale, statements the juvenile made to police or informants, and the presence of items like digital scales, baggies, or records of drug sales.
If a juvenile sells drugs to a narcotics officer or informant, the juvenile will be charged with drug distribution instead of simple possession or PWID.
Juveniles, like adults, can be charged with manufacturing drugs if they are involved in growing marijuana plants, “cooking” crack cocaine, or “cooking” methamphetamine.
Drug trafficking is the most serious drug crime in South Carolina. Trafficking charges are usually based on the weight of the drugs found – a juvenile charged with drugs in SC may be charged with trafficking if found with:
- More than one pound of marijuana
- More than 10 grams of cocaine, crack cocaine, or methamphetamine
- More than four grams of heroin
In Which Court are Juvenile Drug Charges Handled?
Most juvenile drug charges will be handled in the Family Court, or “Juvenile Court.”
Some juveniles’ cases may be filed in General Sessions Court or “removed” to General Sessions Court based on the age of the minor and the seriousness of the offense.
In some cases, we can get the adult court to send the juvenile’s case back to the Family Court, but, in other cases, we will have to defend the charges in the adult court.
What are the Penalties for a Juvenile Charged with Drugs in SC?
The potential penalties for a juvenile charged with drugs in SC are the same as the potential penalties for any offense charged in the juvenile court – unless the minor is charged in adult court, the usual penalties for a conviction will not apply.
What are the Possible Penalties in Juvenile Court?
The potential penalties for a juvenile in SC are based on the circumstances, the seriousness of the offense, and the best interests of the child.
A “conviction” in juvenile court is not really a “conviction” – it is called an “adjudication of delinquency.”
Although the child is “charged” with serious crimes that could result in an adult receiving a lengthy prison sentence, in the Family Court the main concern of the judge should always be the best interests of the child.
Once a child has been “adjudicated delinquent,” they are usually not automatically sentenced. The child will often receive an evaluation first, which could be an “at home” evaluation where he/she remains at home while an in-depth evaluation is completed.
On the other hand, the Court may order the minor to attend an “evaluation center,” which is a locked-down facility where minors live, attend school, and receive counseling for 45 days or less as the evaluation is completed.
In either case, the child will return to court for a “disposition hearing” where the Court will order a sentence based on the recommendations from the evaluation, Department of Juvenile Justice, the Solicitor’s office, and the minor’s defense lawyer.
When the juvenile returns to Court, the range of potential punishments includes:
- A fine
- Detention in a juvenile detention facility through DJJ for a set period of time (30 days, 90 days, or whatever the Court deems appropriate)
- Detention in a juvenile detention facility for an indeterminate sentence not to exceed the 21st birthday
The Court may also combine detention with a period of probation. There will ordinarily be additional requirements recommended by the evaluation that may include counseling services, community supervision, and drug screenings.
Are There Pre-trial Diversion Programs for a Juvenile Charged with Drugs in SC?
If a minor is charged in adult court (General Sessions Court or the Magistrate Court), there may be a wide range of pretrial diversion programs available including:
- Conditional discharge
- Drug Court
- Pretrial Intervention (PTI)
In juvenile Court, the prosecutor may also refer some cases to what is called “juvenile arbitration,” which can include requirements such as community service, drug testing, writing a letter of apology, or other conditions relevant to the child’s circumstances.
Once all requirements are met, the case is dismissed and can be expunged.
Need help with your juvenile drug charge in SC?
If your child has been charged with a drug offense in SC juvenile court, including in the Lexington, Aiken, Newberry, and Columbia areas, you will need an experienced drug crimes defense lawyer who also has experience with the Juvenile Court system.
Call Lexington, SC, criminal defense lawyer Kent Collins now at 803-808-0905 or send us an email online to schedule a free in-person consultation about your case.