Every state has laws that protect the health, safety, and welfare of minors. For example, every state has laws regarding school attendance and prohibiting delinquency. Likewise, many municipalities have enacted “curfew” laws prohibiting children and minors from staying in public areas during certain times, such as after 10 p.m.).
These types of laws are known as “juvenile protection laws.” Their aim is to provide for the protection of minors. These laws generally focus on conduct that is legal for adults but illegal if committed by a minor. Violations of these laws are often called “age-based criminal offenses” or “status offenses.” Status offense laws are not so much aimed at punishing the minor for illegal acts; instead, they aim at protecting the minor from the harms or risks associated with such illegal behavior.
What Are Some Examples of Juvenile Protection Laws?
Juvenile protection laws commonly cover such behavior as:
- Unexcused absences from school (truancy)
- Curfew violation
- Possession, purchase, or consumption of prohibited goods like alcohol, cigarettes, or lottery tickets
- Disruptive behavior
- Property damage such as graffiti
What Happens When a Minor Commits a Status Offense?
Again, the aim with most juvenile protection laws is not to punish the minor for their behavior but rather to correct the behavior and rehabilitate the juvenile offender. Thus, some lawbreakers may be labelled as "non-offenders" as a recognition that they need assistance rather than punishment. Some remedies for status offense violations include:
- Issuing a warning
- Requiring the minor to pay a fine or to compensate the victim
- Suspending the minor’s driving privileges
- Having the minor be removed from their home and placed in the care of a guardian, foster care home, or group home
- Requiring the minor to perform community service
- Requiring the minor to participate in counseling and informational sessions
- Disruptive behavior
Thus, juvenile status offenses usually result in alternative sentencing instead of a sentence in a juvenile correctional facility. While time in “juvenile hall” is still issued, it is usually connected with more serious offenses or with repeat offenses. Also, status offenses can be expunged from the person’s record somewhat easily when their record is sealed upon turning 18 years old.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help With Juvenile Protection Laws?
Facing charges for an age-based criminal offense can be very intimidating for both the minor as well as their parents. You may wish to contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer in your area for advice on juvenile protection laws. These laws can vary by state, but an experienced attorney will be able to help you obtain alternative sentence options. They can also conduct research to determine if the charges can be reduced or dropped.