Juvenile law deals with crimes committed by minors. The age limit to be considered a juvenile offender may differ from state to state, but is typically around age seventeen. Generally, the offender must have been under the age of eighteen when the crime was committed to be considered a juvenile. If your child or someone you know is being accused of a crime, the following information can help you understand the basics of the juvenile law process.
When a juvenile crime is reported, parents are contacted, and a hearing is scheduled. After the case is deemed worthy of prosecution, a court date is scheduled. Depending on the nature of the crime and many other factors, the child can be detained or released into the custody of their parents or guardians until the court date.
Juveniles have the same constitutional rights as adults. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present, the right to cross-examine any witnesses speaking against them and so on. In juvenile cases, as in adult cases, the police are obligated to inform suspects of these rights. In many states, social workers or counselors are also assigned to criminal cases involving minors as defendants.
Crimes committed by children, ranging from traffic violations and petty theft to more serious crimes such as rape or murder are prosecuted by city, state, or federal agencies. Court proceedings tend to be a bit more informal than the typical adult prosecution. In most states, court records in juvenile cases are sealed so that no one from the public can access them. If after the case is tried in court the juvenile is determined to be guilty, he or she is adjudicated.
Adjudication vs. Conviction
Traditionally, in juvenile criminal cases the focus has been on reform rather than punishment. Because of this, prison sentences have typically been shorter than they are for adults committing comparable crimes. Unlike a conviction, a juvenile court adjudication stays off the child’s record as far as job applications go. Most states require that adjudicated juveniles be released from custody upon turning eighteen.
The landscape of juvenile law is starting to change somewhat in many states. More juveniles are being treated in adult courts, especially in very serious cases. Additionally, the emphasis is starting to shift a bit from reform to punishment. Make sure you speak with a qualified attorney in your area who can explain the way juvenile court works in your particular municipality.
Some types of adjudication made in juvenile cases include:
• Fines or restitution
• Community service
• Juvenile detention (jail)
If there is even the slightest suspicion in the minds of the parents that their child may have committed the crime in question, it is crucial to hire a good defense attorney. If the juvenile is found to be guilty by a court of law, a good criminal lawyer that is well versed in these types of cases can be instrumental in negotiating a less severe punishment.