If your child is arrested or referred to the juvenile court, you will experience an overwhelming amount of emotions. Additionally, you will have a plethora of questions about the juvenile court system.
While the procedure for juvenile delinquency cases varies from state to state, the following is an overview of a typical juvenile case.
When Your Child is Referred to Juvenile Court
As soon as the police officer refers a case to juvenile court, a prosecutor or juvenile court intake officer (typically a probation officer) becomes in charge. That individual may decide to either dismiss the case, handle the issue in an informal manner, or file formal charges.
The prosecutor or intake officer will often consider the following factors in deciding how to proceed:
- The seriousness of the criminal offense
- The juvenile’s age
- The juvenile’s gender
- The juvenile’s previous criminal history
- The strength of the evidence
- The ability of the juvenile’s parents to control his or her behavior
If the prosecutor or intake officer determines to proceed with the juvenile’s case informally, the minor must often appear before a judge or probation officer. While no formal charge is entered against the juvenile, he or she will typically be required to attend counseling or after-school classes, pay a fine, repay the victim for damages, perform community service, and/or enter probation.
If the prosecutor or intake officer decides to proceed formally, he or she will file a petition in juvenile court. Next, the minor is arraigned in front of a juvenile court judge. There are some cases where the court may choose to send the juvenile to adult criminal court.
Additionally, the court will also decide whether the juvenile should be detained or released for a specific amount of time before the initial hearing. In most cases, the judge allows a minor to stay at home while awaiting the hearing.
The following are the possible actions in juvenile court:
- The minor enters into a plea agreement.
- The judge diverts the case, which allows the court to reinstate formal charges if the juvenile doesn’t fulfill their obligations.
- The judge holds an adjudicatory hearing—when a case goes to trial—where he or she will determine whether the juvenile is delinquent.
If a delinquency ruling is made, a probation officer will assess the minor, order psychological examination or diagnostic tests, and then make recommendations at the disposition hearing. Lastly, the judge decides what is in the best interests of the minor, and may order various things as part of the disposition, such as confinement in a juvenile detention facility, probation, counseling, or reimbursement of the victim.