Even kids can run afoul of the law. Once a child enters the criminal justice system, they may be deemed a "juvenile delinquent." Juvenile delinquents are minors (under 18 years old) who've committed law violations. This article talks about the different delinquent acts and ways to detect and prevent juvenile delinquency.
Defining Delinquent Acts
Offenses committed by juveniles aren't called "crimes" as they are for adults. Instead, the term for criminal offenses that minors commit is "delinquent acts." Instead of a trial, in the juvenile justice system the juvenile has an adjudication, or adjudicatory hearing. The child appears before a juvenile court judge and receives disposition, or a sentence, if they are found "guilty" or "not innocent." However, juvenile proceedings differ from adult proceedings in several other ways.
Delinquent acts generally fall into two categories. The first type of delinquent act includes actions that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime. In this category, offenses such as felony charges or drug offenses may lead the minor to be tried as an adult. Note that these offenses may also vary depending on state law.
The courts will look at whether to try the minor in adult criminal court or the juvenile court system. Various factors often influence this decision. These factors include the severity of the crime committed. Delinquent acts range from misdemeanors to serious crimes — even first-degree murder. The court also looks at a minor's criminal record and may consider other circumstances surrounding the juvenile's actions. Law enforcement officers will then assess whether to place the minor in jail or a juvenile facility. Whenever juveniles are held in adult facilities, they must be separated from adults in most cases.
Minors held pending trial in a juvenile detention facility can schedule a detention hearing to seek pretrial release. An adult seeking pretrial release would request a bond hearing. A detention hearing or pretrial hearing is often a minor's first appearance in juvenile court. Adults appear for an arraignment in the adult criminal court.
The second type of delinquent act wouldn't usually be a crime had an adult performed it. These are known as "status" offenses since they're only considered offenses because of the person's age. The most common examples of status offenses are staying out past curfew and possessing or consuming alcohol. The category also includes frequent failure to attend school, otherwise known as truancy.
The minimum age at which jurisdictions can charge children with truancy varies. It's often as young as 10 years old. Minors can also face civil charges of Child in Need of Services or Child in Need of Supervision (CHINS). A juvenile's parents or guardian can file a CHINS case. The school social worker often files truancy charges. Court process formalities may vary based on the local jurisdiction, venue, and court.
Juvenile Delinquency: Early Detection and Intervention
Juvenile delinquency is more than just mischievous pranks like doorbell ditching. Some of these offenses are serious, including violent crimes, property crimes, and crimes against another person. Delinquency prevention and intervention efforts focus on identifying and addressing risk factors. Authorities also make efforts to build on protective efforts to counter these risks.
In addition, it is helpful to offer trauma-informed treatment to juvenile offenders. This can involve programs such as community service or in-home behavioral health services. Probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals may also introduce young offenders to potential careers.
Nonprofit programs designed to assist youth and guide them to a better path are on the rise. Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America can provide mentoring and good role models for at-risk youth. If your child is caught engaging in juvenile delinquency acts, consider contacting one of these groups to learn more.
Juvenile Delinquents: More Resources
Remember, state laws on juvenile law and criminal law are constantly changing. You should research the laws of your jurisdiction to understand the procedures and penalties. For more information, consult the following links:
Have Questions About Juvenile Offenders? Talk to an Attorney
In most juvenile delinquency cases, a delinquent act can follow a minor into adulthood if handled improperly. Delinquency adjudication can also create a criminal record for the child. This may depend on the charge, the age of the juvenile, and the state where the crime was committed.
When your child is at risk of being labeled a juvenile delinquent, it's recommended that you contact a criminal defense attorney. Navigating the rules associated with this type of criminal case can be complex, partly due to the unique criminal justice procedures that courts follow. An attorney may help you get your child's juvenile record expunged when they turn 18. In expungement, all records of misdeeds, whether they involve misdemeanor or felony offenses, are essentially hidden from the record.