Criminal Procedure in Juvenile Court

The criminal proceedings for juvenile cases differ from those in the adult criminal justice system. This difference spans from the procedure used when a police officer questions a minor suspect to the effect that a criminal conviction has on a juvenile's permanent record.

Minors, young people who have not yet developed into adults, can be vulnerable if tried in adult criminal court. As a result, minors are usually tried in juvenile court, and there are protections built into juvenile court proceedings.

This section:

  • Describes the steps in the juvenile justice system and court process
  • Lists the situations in which the court will try a juvenile as an adult
  • Offers guidance for choosing a juvenile justice attorney

Definition of a Juvenile

Most jurisdictions consider a juvenile a person between the ages of 10 and 18. Some state laws set the maximum juvenile age as 16. Anyone over a state's given age limit is tried as an adult. But there are times when juvenile crimes are tried as adult crimes. These situations are reserved for juveniles who commit exceptionally violent or serious offenses.

Police Questioning of Minors Without Parents Present

Minors have rights, just like adults. Minors have a right against self-incrimination and a right to an attorney, among other constitutional rights. This means that cops must read a minor their Miranda rights upon arrest in situations where they would be required to read them to an adult. Law enforcement is generally allowed to question minors without their parents' approval or presence. There is no requirement that parents must consent before their children are interviewed. But the juvenile interrogation must be voluntary.

Sealing Juvenile Records

If you went to court due to juvenile delinquency, you may be able to get the record sealed (expungement). This includes records held by law enforcement officers, the district attorney, probation, and the courts. When the court orders your records sealed, it means that the offense that brought you to court no longer exists by law. You can legally and truthfully say you do not have a criminal record when asked about your criminal history. There may be an exception to this if you want to join the military or get a federal security clearance.

Since you can legally say you don't have a record in most cases, sealing your juvenile records may make it easier for you to find a job, get a driver's license, get a loan, rent an apartment, or go to college.

Juveniles and the Death Penalty

In March 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment for those who had committed their crimes when under 18 years of age and, thus, barred by the Constitution. The death penalty for juvenile offenders has been banned by nations in large part due to the express provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and several other international treaties and agreements. Since 1990, juvenile offenders are known to have been executed in countries including China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, South Sudan, and the United States.

Situations in Which a Juvenile Can Be Tried as an Adult

The decision to try a juvenile as an adult is typically based on various factors and varies across jurisdictions. A mere misdemeanor is not enough for a juvenile to be tried as an adult. Some common determining factors include:

  • Seriousness of the offense: Juveniles may be tried as adults for particularly serious crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, or sexual offenses.
  • Age and maturity: Some jurisdictions consider the age of the juvenile. Older adolescents may be more likely to be tried as adults, especially if they are close to the age of majority.
  • Criminal history: A juvenile with a history of criminal activity may be more likely to be tried as an adult, especially if there is a pattern of escalating offenses.
  • Transfer hearings: In some cases, there are transfer or waiver hearings where a judge assesses whether a juvenile should be tried in juvenile court or transferred to adult court based on the circumstances of the case.
  • Public safety concerns: If the court believes that trying a juvenile as an adult is necessary for public safety, this may influence the decision.
  • Sophistication and planning: Crimes that involve a high degree of planning or sophistication may increase the likelihood of a juvenile being tried as an adult.
  • Victim's age or vulnerability: If the victim is particularly vulnerable or young, this might impact the decision to try the juvenile as an adult.
  • Prosecutorial discretion: Prosecutors may have discretion in deciding whether to file charges in juvenile or adult court based on the circumstances of the case.

Consult an attorney for more information regarding the specific laws and regulations in your jurisdiction, as these can vary significantly.

Status Offenses

Status offenses refer to behaviors considered offenses only when committed by juveniles. Unlike criminal offenses that would be crimes regardless of the perpetrator's age, status offenses are specific to the juvenile population. These offenses are primarily related to actions or conditions that are problematic for young individuals but not criminal for adults. Common examples include truancy, curfew violations, and running away from home.

Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney for Delinquency Cases

Is your child suspected of a delinquent act or facing criminal charges? Work with a juvenile law attorney who is knowledgeable about the juvenile detention facility and juvenile court judges. This is the best way to ensure fair treatment for your child in juvenile court. Avoid a delinquency adjudication. Contact a juvenile defense lawyer who knows the court system today.

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