A Message to Parents

… if your child has been charged with a crime or a delinquency petition.

As a parent, few things can be as frightening as when your child is charged with a crime or a delinquency petition. Your world seems to spin out of control, you have a lot of questions, and you need to turn to someone — anyone. We are here to help you.

Our expertise comes from representing hundreds of juvenile clients in the Circuit Courts and Superior Courts in New Hampshire, as well as hundreds more college-age students charged with criminal offenses ranging from traffic infractions to sexual assaults.

We are not just lawyers, we are parents. We know how important your children are to you, and the hopes you have for their future. If you are a parent whose child, teen or young adult has become involved with the New Hampshire legal system, we encourage you to contact us for dedicated, experienced advice. Based in Portsmouth, we work throughout the seacoast area and are available to travel elsewhere in the State.

Juvenile Delinquency Law in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, citizens are deemed juveniles until they reach their 18th birthday, and until that time, are generally not subject to criminal sanctions like a jail or prison sentence. When charged with a delinquency petition, juvenile cases are brought in the Family Division of the Circuit Court. Though the language is different (for example, a trial is referred to as an “adjudicatory hearing” and the person charged is referred to as the juvenile, not the “defendant”), the sanctions can be severe if there is a “true” finding (for an adult, this would be a finding of “guilty”).

Juveniles can be subject to a host of sanctions, including a period of conditional release which is supervised by a JPPO (Juvenile Probation and Parole Officer), they can be forced to participate in treatment, or they can be removed from their home. The consequences of these official sanctions are likewise significant, as this process can upset the family dynamic, cause issues at school, and lead to insecurity and fear.

When Youth Can be Charged as Adults

Moreover, as with many areas of the law, there are exceptions to the rule that juvenile cases are to be brought in the Family Division. Some cases (such as Driving Under the Influence) are brought as criminal charges in the District Division, regardless of age. In other cases, if the charge is serious, the government can seek to “certify” a juvenile as an adult. If so certified, the charges are brought in the Superior Court, and the consequences can include a lengthy prison sentence.

We Understand: Children, Teens and Young Adults Are Impulsive

We understand — from our professional and personal lives — that children act impulsively, and they often fail to recognize that their behavior can carry long-term consequences. And by “children,” we don’t just mean those who are under 18 years old. A broad consensus of neuroscientists now agree that brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s — possibly until the 30s.

The fact that our brains aren’t developed until the mid-20s means that “legal adults” (those who are 18 years of age and older) must face adult consequences, though they lack fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 years old may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-30s in part due to lack of experience, but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain. It is why your teenager fails to recognize that texting while driving a car can be extremely dangerous.

We understand the law, we know the science, and we know what it’s like to be a parent. We have been exceptionally successful — both in litigating these cases and in negotiating favorable resolutions. Each case calls for a unique approach: we never lose sight of our clients’ goals and we never rest until we have achieved the best possible outcome.

If you are a parent whose child is facing legal consequences, please contact Reis & O'Keefe for a free consultation about your case.