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What is Juvenile Law?

What is Juvenile Law?

Juvenile Law… Explained

A person who commits a crime or violates an ordinance and is under the age of 18 can be held responsible for his or her actions but might not be charged in adult court. Some states define a juvenile for criminal purposes as under 19, while others are as low as 16.

Over 100 years ago, it was determined to separate minors from the adult justice system. It was recognized that children’ personalities and attitudes are still forming and that a system that was geared towards rehabilitation and treatment rather than punishment would be more effective in reducing adult crime and in steering a younger person toward a more productive life.

The juvenile justice system has its own courts, judges and prosecutors. A juvenile is not convicted, but adjudicated or found delinquent if the evidence is sufficient to show that he or she committed the offense. Juveniles are also not incarcerated, but may be sent to a juvenile detention center, camp, or other facility for continued education and treatment. A juvenile law attorney, experienced and knowledgeable in the juvenile courts, is essential for protecting your child’s future.

If arrested by law enforcement, a juvenile can be returned to his or her parents while citing them for an offense or not, or placing the juvenile at a detention center, usually called juvenile hall for booking and release, unless the offense was serious. A prosecutor will decide whether the offense should be charged. If so, a Petition is drawn up, which is similar to a criminal complaint, and the juvenile must appear in court.

A juvenile proceeding is closed to the public and the juvenile’s name and identity are not disclosed. Also, an adjudication hearing, while similar to a trial, is only held before a judge who acts as the trier-of-fact and of the law. Having a juvenile law lawyer who is familiar with the court, its judges, and prosecutors may mean the difference in determining if a petition should be sustained or upheld, if the petition should be dismissed, or if an alternative outcome is reasonable or possible.

The juvenile system has jurisdiction over three classes of juveniles:

Criminal Offenses

An offense that would be considered a crime if committed by an adult can result in a designation of delinquency. These include assault, shoplifting, drug crimes, or others.

Status Offenses

A status offense is one that can only be violated by a juvenile. These include truancy and curfew violations, or even petty offenses like spraying graffiti.

Abused and Neglected Children

Children in this category have not committed any crime, but their parents or guardians have abandoned them, neglected them, or committed crimes like sexual assault or other criminal conduct. Under these circumstances, the children can be placed under protective services and sent to a foster home or a responsible relative’s home. Usually a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the child.

Adult Crimes

Serious felonies that are committed by a juvenile may be transferred or remanded from the juvenile court to the adult court, although the child is usually older than 12. In some states, the child must be at least 15 or 16. These include homicide or a serious sex offense, or a criminal act that results in serious bodily injury.

The determination whether to charge a juvenile as an adult generally depends on the following factors:

  • Severity of the crime
  • The juvenile’s prior history of violent behavior
  • Previous attempts at rehabilitation
  • Whether the juvenile is amenable to treatment or rehabilitation in the juvenile system

If the juvenile is found guilty, he or she can be sent to a juvenile facility to serve the sentence or to a state prison where he or she will be kept separate from the regular adult population. In a juvenile facility, the individual may be kept there for a few years beyond his or her 21st birthday.

It is vital if your child is charged with a serious offense to hire a juvenile law attorney at the earliest possible time who can challenge any attempt to remand your child to adult court, to ensure that all of his or her rights are protected, and that all possible treatment and alternative programs available in the juvenile justice system are explored and presented.

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