Juvenile Justice

Offenders younger than 18 years of age typically enter the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system.

The juvenile court system addresses the unique needs of a young person involved in criminal acts. The links below provide topical articles to learn more or keep reading this page to learn the basics of the juvenile legal system.

While many of the crimes committed may be the same, juvenile offenders are subject to different laws and procedures than adults charged with crimes. This section offers a guide to:

  • Juvenile crime
  • Laws governing minors
  • Court procedures of juvenile cases

You'll find articles and resources covering "status" crimes, police questioning of minors, the juvenile court process, the differences between juvenile court proceedings and adult criminal proceedings, and more.

Juvenile Crime

Although a type of criminal law, juvenile criminal law only deals with underage offenders, who get treated very differently than adults in criminal law. Minors usually have their own courts of law.

Minors under 18 who commit a crime or otherwise violate established rules and statutes are:

  • Juvenile delinquents
  • Juvenile offenders
  • Youthful offenders
  • Delinquent minors

Almost all laws governing juvenile delinquency are enacted and regulated under state law.

This section contains articles that describe the development of the juvenile justice system, provide basic information about the implications of a juvenile conviction, and offer examples of the most common types of juvenile crimes.

Criminal Procedure in Juvenile Court

The criminal procedure for a juvenile involved in criminal activities is:

  • A juvenile arrest by law enforcement
  • Juvenile is then subject to juvenile charges
  • The detention hearing
  • The adjudication hearing
  • The disposition hearing, where the juvenile court judge considers the appropriate intervention or punishment
  • Appeals
  • Record handling — juvenile records are confidential

Juvenile courts hear cases dealing with juvenile delinquents, incorrigible youth, and issues of child neglect, abandonment, or abuse. These courts consider the minor's act as delinquent, not criminal, and charge the minor accordingly.

When a judge determines that a minor has committed a delinquent act, they pronounce the juvenile as a ward of the court and have broad discretion when disposing of the case. A juvenile criminal disposition can include suspending the child's driver's license, imposing a fine, and directing the juvenile to complete community service. Other possible options include ordering counseling and placing the child on probation or home confinement. 

Placement in a relative's home, a foster or group home, and even incarceration in a juvenile correctional facility are also options in some cases. In extreme cases, the judge can send the youth to an adult jail or state prison.

Offenses in the Juvenile Justice System

Minors may face charges for offenses identical to those applicable to adults. These offenses include:

  • Violent crimes like assault
  • Drug-related offenses
  • Property crimes like theft

Certain offenses, called status offenses, are based on the person's age. They would not be offenses if committed by an adult. Examples of status offenses include:

  • Truancy
  • Running away from home
  • Possession of tobacco products
  • Underage drinking

Typically, social services agencies handle most status offenses, diverting them from the juvenile court system unless there is a history of prior violations by the minor.

Juvenile Correctional Facilities

Juveniles are jailed in separate facilities from adults, often called juvenile corrections. They go to specialized courts of law for juvenile offenses. These include short-term facilities called juvenile halls or juvenile detention facilities. For longer terms, they get housed in secured juvenile facilities. The juvenile corrections system includes social workers and probation officers. The goal is to rehabilitate the offenders and deter them from repeat offenses.

Need Legal Advice? Contact a Juvenile Law Defense Attorney

In most cases, the juvenile will get a public defender if they do not have income or resources over a specific economic threshold. Either pre-trial services or the judge will decide if a defendant needs a public defender. A juvenile who does not show enough financial need must hire their own attorney. 

In some states, if the parent or guardian refuses to hire an attorney, the court may appoint one but force the parents to pay the fees via court costs. In some areas, if the court determines the defendant is indigent, the defendant may have to repay the court some of the costs of appointing counsel.

Visit FindLaw's attorney directory to find a criminal defense lawyer who can help you.

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