Juvenile Court Procedure

The juvenile court system is different from the adult criminal justice system. Just like adults, authorities can arrest juveniles. For instance, a law enforcement officer may detain them after committing a delinquent act. However, the difference lies in the post-arrest treatments. Here, juveniles may be detained in juvenile detention facilities instead of an adult jail. 

They also hold a detention hearing to determine probable cause and assess whether the juvenile should be released or detained pending trial. Juvenile offenders are persons at the age of minority, often under 18 years old.

A petition, the official charging document, is then drawn up. This petition outlines the jurisdictional authority of the juvenile court over the offense and detained individuals. It sets the arraignment process, provides the reason for the court date, and serves as notice to the minor's family of the delinquent act the juvenile allegedly committed.

The juvenile court procedure will usually vary depending on the type of case. There are three basic types of juvenile cases:

  • Juvenile Delinquency Cases: These are cases involving minors whose actions would be criminal offenses if committed by an adult. The punishment and procedures in juvenile delinquency courtrooms differ from adult criminal courts. In juvenile proceedings, the main focus is rehabilitation and avoiding long-term repercussions.
  • Juvenile Dependency Cases: These cases involve minors abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or guardians. Cases of this sort focus on protecting the child's safety. They have some similarities to family court cases.
  • Status Offense Cases: These cases involve status offenses that apply specifically to juveniles. These may include underage drinking or driving, curfew violations, runaways, or truancy.

Note that the organizational model varies from state to state. For instance, Alabama allows each county and city jurisdiction to decide the best method of organization. Where the juvenile court sits can have profound implications for the juvenile process.

Powers and Duties of Juvenile Probation Officers

The juvenile court system aims to rehabilitate the juvenile offender and protect the public. An essential part of this goal involves the duties and powers assigned to the Juvenile Probation Officer. These officers play an essential role in ensuring the rights of juvenile offenders and also guide them through court hearings and other legal processes. Some of the powers and duties of juvenile probation officers are as follows:

  • Taking the juvenile offender into custody.
  • Authorizing detention centers or shelters to take care of the juvenile.
  • Receiving and examining written allegations unless the district attorney elects to require initial receipt and approval of the written allegations first.
  • Creating proper referrals for the consent decree, informal adjustment, or others.
  • Making reports, investigations, and social studies according to the court's recommendations.
  • Making referrals to public and private agencies. This includes psychiatric or psychological providers and alcohol and drug facilities or programs. It also includes other necessary treatments or programs.

Note that this list is not exhaustive. The rules of juvenile court procedures vary from state to state and might require the help of a criminal defense attorney to understand in full.

In the Courtroom

Once in court, the juvenile court judge oversees the process. The judge holds an adjudicatory hearing and adjudicates the case. Then a disposition hearing determines the outcome. In general, court records in juvenile proceedings are more protected than that of adults, but not all juvenile records are sealed automatically. Not all adult criminal cases are accessible under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Like diversion, this measure protects the juvenile so that one mistake doesn't follow them for life. The juvenile court process leans more towards rehabilitation of the minor. This is particularly evident in the disposition phase where measures such as community service or juvenile probation are frequently ordered.

The process and conditions for expungement of juvenile criminal records vary in every state. Authorities might consider some factors in expunging forms, including "good behavior," among others. However, note that expungement is not automatic after the minor reaches 18 years of age. Juvenile court procedure is also far less formal than adult court procedure.

The law's ability to interfere in criminal and other matters relating to juveniles is the product of an old concept called parens patriae. This legal concept regards the government as the legal protector of citizens unable to protect themselves. Even today, the court bases its order in juvenile cases on the least detrimental, or restrictive, alternative. Thus, the principle of parens patriae is still evident.

One major controversy in juvenile dispositions is the use of indeterminate sentencing. This allows probation officers and law enforcement to monitor juvenile offenders during their sentencing. The judge releases them only after assessing that the minor has been rehabilitated or the minor has served the maximum period of time. Note that not all jurisdictions adopt indeterminate sentencing for juvenile offenders.

Adjudication of Juvenile Offenses

When authorities accuse juvenile offenders of a criminal offense, they forward the case to the Juvenile Delinquency Court. Here, the District Attorney has to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This step is called the adjudication hearing, also called a jurisdiction hearing.

A juvenile court judge hears the case, and there are no jury trials in juvenile court. The rules of evidence in adult criminal court still apply in juvenile court.

Get Legal Help Understanding the Juvenile Court Procedure

In general, the juvenile justice system is more lenient than that of the adult justice system. Still, a conviction for either a misdemeanor or a more serious offense can significantly impact the child's future. 

Thus, it is recommended that you consult a criminal defense attorney for advice. They can assist you with understanding your case and the court orders. They can also guide you in navigating the juvenile court system. Criminal law attorneys will also help protect your child's rights and work toward providing the best outcome possible.

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