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Juvenile Court Procedures

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Are Juvenile Court Procedures Different Than Adult Court Procedures?

Yes, juvenile court procedures are organized in order to protect and rehabilitate minors who are facing juvenile criminal charges or who are non-offenders in need of court intervention. The general public consensus is that persons under the age of 18 may be less equipped to take responsibility for their actions than adults are. On the other hand, juveniles may often be rehabilitated much more successfully than their adult counterparts, as their character is still subject to development.

Thus, the focus in juvenile court procedures is shifted away from punishment and instead aims to preserve the juvenile defendant’s potential to function in society in the future. Juvenile court procedures contain a variety of measures that reflect these principles. Juvenile criminal systems are also somewhat less formal than adult criminal systems.

What Happens If a Minor Commits a Crime?

After committing a criminal offense, juveniles are usually informally detained rather than arrested.  Once they are in detention, authorities will draft up a petition outlining the jurisdictional authority of the juvenile court which will handle the case. The petition also provides the juvenile and their family with notice for the offense, as well as the reasons for any required court appearances.

When the juvenile appears in court, a juvenile court judge will adjudicate the case. A disposition or judgment will be issued, which will state the possible consequences for the juvenile defendant. For example, the judge may order the juvenile offender to perform community service or to pay a fine. The juvenile may be required to spend time in a juvenile hall.

In order to protect minors, records from juvenile criminal court proceedings are sealed and generally cannot be accessed by the public.  

Is Sentencing Different for Juvenile Criminal Cases?

Compared to adult criminal sentencing, juvenile court judges have much more discretion to prescribe rehabilitative measures as an alternative to jail time. Judges in a juvenile criminal case will often prescribe the least detrimental sentencing option for a juvenile offender. 

For example, while serving a sentence, the juvenile’s behavior may be closely monitored to determine whether they have been successfully rehabilitated. If the juvenile defendant can demonstrate good standing and compliance with sentencing requirements, a judge may issue an early release. Or, they may prescribe alternative sentencing measures at the outset.

Once the juvenile offender has successfully completed their sentencing requirements, their criminal record may be sealed or expunged once they reach the age of majority (18 years old in most states). The sealing of juvenile records is meant to protect the person’s identity and reputation, and to assist them in reintegrating back into society.

Is the Juvenile Court a Separate Entity from Adult Courts?

Juvenile courts may be arranged in one of three different ways:

  • As its own separate, independently operating entity
  • As part of a lower court institution, such as a municipal court or city court
  • As part of a higher level court institution, such as a superior court or circuit court

The rights of juveniles are the same whether the juvenile court is a separate entity or attached to another court body. However, the juvenile court’s affiliation with another court can often affect procedural matters, such as court dates and the length of the trial process. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Juvenile Court Procedures?

If you have any questions regarding the procedures in a juvenile criminal case, you should speak with a criminal lawyer immediately. Juvenile court procedures are often much different than adult criminal court systems. A criminal attorney can help provide advice and representation for persons facing juvenile criminal charges. Be sure to explain all the details of the case to the attorney, as juvenile cases can have far-reaching implications for criminal defendants. 

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 12-14-2015 12:34 PM PST

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