Legal Defense of Youth

Attorneys at the CFJC represent youth in juvenile court on charges ranging from misdemeanors to first-degree murder. A holistic children’s law center, the CFJC focuses not only on zealously advocating for its clients and achieving the best legal result possible, but also on trying to understand what brought the youth into conflict with the law in the first place. Working with Bluhm Legal Clinic social workers, CFJC attorneys assist their clients in obtaining needed supports such as special education services, stable housing, medical care, and mental health treatment.

For a better understanding of CFJC’s work representing youth in delinquency proceedings, here are some case stories: 

At 17, M.D. was a ward of the state living in a group home for abused and neglected boys.

He had experienced a great deal of traumatic stress and dislocation in his life. One night, M.D. got into a fight with another resident of his group home and damaged one of the home's ceiling tiles (worth $100). No injuries occurred, and M.D. paid for the repair of the ceiling tile. Nevertheless, his group home called the police. M.D. was subsequently arrested and charged with two felonies.

After working with the group home and the prosecutor’s office, the CFJC team succeeded in getting the two felony charges reduced to a single misdemeanor charge. The CFJC also obtained M.D.'s release from custody pending his sentencing hearing, so that he would not be further traumatized by incarceration. Finally, after learning that the group home had a "zero tolerance" policy for any misbehavior – even typical adolescent misbehavior, and despite the fact that its residents have all suffered abuse and/or neglect – CFJC attorneys challenged this policy with the leadership at the facility, educated them about the consequences of saddling youth with criminal records, and encouraged alternative ways of holding youth accountable for their actions.

On a warm fall weekend evening, B.D. was sitting on a friend's porch like a typical 17-year-old when approached by police on "aggressive patrol."

B.D.’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Chicago police detectives approached him while on what they termed "aggressive patrol" in his neighborhood. As part of this patrol, they performed a suspicionless and verbally abusive sweep, seizure, and search of him and four other friends.

CFJC students and attorneys investigated the case, learning from multiple witnesses of the improper way the police had treated them. The students then presented and argued a motion to suppress the evidence allegedly retrieved from D.B. Although the motion was denied, the CFJC team was able to give D.B. and the other youth in his neighborhood an important opportunity to speak out about the illegal and unfair treatment they were subjected to. Furthermore, the team made a record of what they suspect to be a pattern and practice of conducting such sweeps in the neighborhood, which will be useful in future advocacy and education efforts.

At age 14, P.L. and his best friend were apprehended for a home robbery that ended in his best friend getting shot and killed by the Chicago police.

Under Illinois’ felony-murder rule, P.L. was charged with the murder of his best friend on the theory that P.L. was responsible for the death because it occurred during P.L.’s commission of a felony. After over two years of litigation, the CFJC team persuaded prosecutors to drop P.L.’s murder charge, citing strong arguments that P.L. lacked the ability to foresee that his participation in the robbery could lead to his friend's death.

P.L. pled guilty to being an accomplice to home invasion, but the prosecution and the CFJC team could not reach an agreement as to his sentence. After a contested hearing, P.L.’s team succeeded in persuading the judge to sentence P.L. to probation rather than to the Department of Juvenile Justice (youth prison).