Minors who commit offenses often fall under different legal standards than adults. Status offenses are unique transgressions that apply only to juvenile offenders. These offenses are classified as status offenses due to the offender's age at the time of the activity.
Examples of Status Offenses
Examples of status offense cases include:
- Truancy (often referred to as skipping school or running away from an educational institution)
- Acting out in a way that suggests the intervention of the court is necessary to ensure the safety of the child or others (also known as incorrigibility, ungovernability, or acting beyond the parent's control)
- Possession of alcohol and underage drinking
- Curfew violations
- Purchase of cigarettes
The basis for these behaviors being deemed status offenses stems from the legal theory of parens patriae. These behaviors harm young people, and the government and the court system should protect minors. Through this principle, law enforcement authorities help to ensure child welfare.
Many cities, such as New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., require individuals under 17 to be off the streets at 11 p.m. In New Orleans, curfews range from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. depending on the day of the week and time of year (summer vs. school year). In Atlanta, the curfew is 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. In Washington, D.C., the curfew ranges from 11 p.m. to midnight and depends on the time of year and weekday vs. weeknight.
Authorities hold minors violating curfew law in juvenile detention centers until a parent or guardian claims them. Parents found to be aiding and abetting curfew violators may face sanctions. These sanctions can include community service, fines, or detention at a secure facility.
Curfew laws have been challenged in several cases because they violate the First Amendment by prohibiting a juvenile's right to free association. In Qutb v. Strauss (1993), the U.S. Court of Appeals held that curfew laws were constitutional because they were designed to protect juveniles from street crime.
Truancy is also known as skipping school or running away from an educational institution without a valid excuse. It is a significant concern in the juvenile justice system. Chronic truancy or absences from school was a significant factor in adult criminality, drug use, and employment problems.
In general, schools start by contacting the family or conducting home visits. They may also ask the juvenile and the family to explain the child's absences. Once the officials identify the underlying issue, they will provide referrals or develop a plan.
There are various ways to address truancy while avoiding the involvement of juvenile court jurisdiction. This includes providing home visits by officers who can work with the families or provide service referrals. The school may also address truancy by offering alternative learning programs to the truant child.
Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders
During the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a move toward deinstitutionalizing status offenders. This was a crucial step in delinquency prevention and juvenile justice. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 is crucial for handling cases involving minors. The act provided:
- A planning and advisory system of juvenile justice nationwide
- Federal funding for improvements and juvenile delinquency prevention in state and local jurisdictions
- Operation of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
This office provides technical assistance, training, model programs, evaluation, and research that supports state and local efforts.
Through JJDPA, authorities cannot hold status offenders in confinement or detention facilities. The juvenile justice system diverts juvenile offenders to agencies that will help minors get back on track. Often, these agencies are outside the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. These could include education programs or group homes. Referral for diversion is essential in ensuring that juvenile offenders receive proper intervention.
The district or county attorney has the authority to divert the minors. Before filing a petition, and without a court order, authorities decide on diversion. The diversion program aims to redirect juvenile offenders. This applies, in particular, to young people who committed minor offenses.
Instead of processing the juvenile through the regular juvenile justice system, they grant alternatives. The operation of the diversion program may vary. But the overall goal is to address the behaviors of the juvenile offender and prevent subsequent offenses. Some diversions offer specialized programs that meet the needs of the minor. This applies to minors with substance abuse and mental health concerns.
Some diversions for the youth and families are:
- Education and tutorial services
- Screening and assessment
- Mental health treatment
- Family counseling
- Substance use education and counseling
- Job skills training
- Crisis intervention
Legislators believed that adjudicating status offenses would lead to further delinquent acts and juvenile crime, thus negating the purpose of rehabilitation. After diversion, juveniles who were adjudicated for status offenses were often classified as children in need of supervision (CHINS), persons in need of supervision (PINS), or minors in need of supervision (MINS).
Today, status offenses still exist in all states. Many juveniles still end up in secure detention facilities or correctional facilities. The Department of Justice estimated that in 1996, juvenile courts around the United States formally disposed of 162,000 status offenses. Of this number, 44,800 were liquor law violations.
Multiple states allow court judges to provide other sanctions to the juvenile offender. These can include suspending the juvenile's driver's license or requiring them to pay monetary damages.
Addressing Mental Health Concerns
It is also essential to note that some juvenile offenders have underlying mental health issues. Addressing these concerns at an early age is crucial in ensuring the juvenile offender's well-being. It could also help prevent the commission of further offenses.
Get Legal Help Understanding Juvenile Status Offenses
Many crimes previously considered criminal offenses are now status offenses if committed by minors. These offenses have various implications and consequences. Thus, learning your rights concerning juvenile cases and status offenses is essential.
If you or a loved one are facing status offenses, it's best to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can assist you with understanding juvenile cases under criminal law and criminal court processes. Criminal law attorneys provide legal advice for misdemeanors or other juvenile records. They can help with the expungement of criminal records. This applies to minors who received court orders before the age of majority.
FindLaw has a directory of criminal defense attorneys in every state. Whether in New York, California, or any other state, criminal defense attorneys can help you with your case.