An Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

Children accused of committing a crime have many of the same rights as do adults, and in some circumstances, are afforded even greater Constitutional protections and safeguards. Like adults, they have the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney, as well as the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against them. Confessions given by juveniles are highly scrutinized, and cannot be used against them in court unless a very specific set of rules is followed by law enforcement.

The juvenile justice system is primarily aimed at rehabilitation rather than punishment. If a juvenile is found guilty of a crime and ultimately incarcerated, they face much different ranges of punishment than do adults. Generally, because juveniles are “adjudicated” rather than “convicted,” a finding of guilt will generally not count as a conviction of a crime for future employers. More serious cases can be treated differently, however. Under certain scenarios, juveniles can be certified as adults and tried in adult courts.

Juvenile Adjudications

When a juvenile is found guilty of a crime, he or she may receive probation, have a fine imposed, perform community service, make restitution or pay back the losses caused by the crime, or be sentenced to serve time in a juvenile correctional facility. An experienced juvenile defense attorney can work with the prosecutor to negotiate a deal that provides for the least severe punishment or, if a resolution is not possible, the defense lawyer can zealously represent the juvenile in court.

If Your Child Is Arrested

If your child is arrested, it can be the most frightening experience that a parent can receive. The whole world blurs as anxiety and panic sets in. You must remember that your child still needs you, now more than ever. You may also be tempted to immediately assume that your child has done something wrong and needs to be punished. Oftentimes parents decide to let the juvenile justice system teach their child a lesson and refuse to get involved. Please don’t jump to conclusions about your child’s case. The criminal justice system is no place to raise a child. Call an experienced juvenile defense attorney to help you get through this frustrating, intimidating time. Your child needs your support.

Once your child is arrested, the officer decides how to handle the case. He or she can keep the child in custody and turn the charges over to the District Attorney’s office, release them, or transfer them to another program. Some juvenile cases are heard informally, meaning that they ultimately end up being dismissed after having the child complete counseling, community service, pay restitution, etc. That being said, it is crucial that you have legal representation at these proceedings to help you make sure your child does not “fall through the cracks.”

For other situations, your child may end up being placed on probation with court ordered-conditions of release. While on probation, your child will have a juvenile probation officer that will constantly monitor the progress of the child and report it to the judge presiding over the case. Like adults, if the child fails to live up to his or her obligations, future severe consequences could result. Additionally, parents can under some scenarios be held responsible for the actions of their children. These laws can impose added stresses on families already dealing with the difficulties of having their children accused of a crime. They can result in financial hardship or loss of liberty. Protect your child, and protect yourself. Call our firm and ask to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable juvenile attorney so that we may begin working on your child’s case TODAY.

Progress of Juvenile Cases

After your child is arrested, his or her case goes through several phases. Initially, there will be a detention hearing. At the hearing will be a juvenile probation officer, the state prosecutor, a judge, the child, and his or her attorney. These hearings are generally closed to the public. The primary purpose of the hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to believe that your child has committed a crime. After hearing the evidence, if the judge is satisfied that a crime has likely been committed by the child, the court can detain the child and release them into the custody of the juvenile probation department for a period not to exceed ten business days.

Around the same time as the detention hearing, the case file goes through an intake process. This is where the initial decision is made as to whether the case will be filed, dismissed, or dealt with informally without filing. The prosecutor will visit with the juvenile probation officer, review the evidence involved in the case, look at the child’s criminal and educational history, and consider the seriousness of the offense.

If the state decides to file the child’s case, the prosecutor will file a petition alleging delinquent conduct against the child. This petition requests the court to have a hearing regarding the case on its merits. While the case is pending the case proceeds much like that of an adults with the discussion of plea bargains and alternate resolutions. Ultimately, an adjudication hearing will take place. This is where the judge makes a determination of guilt based on the evidence presented by the state. Juveniles, like adults, also have the right to jury trial.

At the conclusion of the adjudication hearing, if the judge finds there is sufficient evidence to make a finding of guilt, a disposition, or punishment hearing, will follow. At the disposition hearing the court will consider whether to order the child into counseling, confinement, probation, or perform community service restitution. This is based in large part upon the prosecutor’s suggestions and the probation department’s recommendations. If a plea bargain is worked out between the prosecutor and the child, it is at this point that the agreement is presented to the judge for his or her approval. A skilled, well-respected criminal defense lawyer will be able to assist you and your child during the formal hearing process and negotiate the best possible solution for your child’s needs.

Archived Blog Posts...