The criminal justice process begins very differently when a child is charged with a crime than with an adult. A juvenile case will also proceed very differently depending upon whether the child is in custody or not. The process is substantially abbreviated in cases where the child is in custody. Both misdemeanor and felony cases proceed in the same manner in juvenile court.
In cases, where the child is not in custody, the first step in the juvenile criminal process in most juvenile courts including Albuquerque is the preliminary inquiry. The parents or guardians of the child will receive a Notice of Preliminary Inquiry from the New Mexico Juvenile Probation and Parole Department. The parents and the child must attend this meeting or the case is automatically forwarded to the District Attorney. An attorney is not necessary, though consultation with a criminal attorney with juvenile court experience in advance of the Preliminary Inquiry is advisable.
Following the Preliminary Inquiry, the case is forwarded to the District Attorney’s Juvenile Division. The case is then screened, typically by paralegals, and it is determined whether or not formal charges will be filed. In most cases, once the case gets to the District Attorney, charges will be filed. In that case, a Petition of Delinquency is filed with the District Court Juvenile Division. The Petition in Juvenile Court is the equivalent of the Criminal Complaint in adult criminal court. The Petition will set forth the charges against the child.
In all juvenile cases, a Public Defender is appointed automatically unless a private attorney has already filed an Entry of Appearance. If the child and his or her family want and can afford private counsel, the private attorney will file an Entry and Substitution of Counsel indicating to the court the attorney’s involvement in the case. If the family does not qualify for free Public Defender representation, the parents will be charged by the Public Defender for its services if the family elects not to hire private counsel.
The case is then set for First Appearance where the child can enter a plea or plea not guilty. It would be very rare and unwise for a child to enter any plea other than not guilty at the First Appearance. Following the First Appearance, the court will set the hearing for a Pretrial Conference. Between the arraignment and pretrial conference, the attorney for the child will gather evidence and discovery from the District Attorney on the case. Typically, the defense attorney and the District Attorney will immediately begin discussing possible resolution of the case short of trial. If a resolution is reached, a plea is entered at the Pretrial Conference. If not, the defense attorney will continue preparing for trial. Often, the case will plea later on more favorable terms due to the defense attorney‘s trial preparation.
Because juvenile court has as its goal the rehabilitation of the child, there are typically several possible dispositions of the case other than a trial. However, in cases where there is no reasonable disposition offered by the District Attorney, the case will proceed to a full trial on the merits. Juvenile Court criminal trials follow the same District Court rules and procedures as do adult criminal trials.