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As a parent, you want the very best for your child. This includes making sure that your child is pursuing happiness in the safest and healthiest way possible. It’s only normal to want your child to be the best version of themselves. However, even the most attentive parents of the best-behaved children can find themselves dealing with police, courts, or even school administrators. 

U.S. courts have consistently upheld that children are entitled to the same due process as adults. However, the court has consistently held that from a developmental standpoint, youth are different from adults. The court wants to encourage the juvenile to correct their behavior and become an honorable member of society. This developmental standpoint difference greatly impacts how judges treat juveniles in areas such as waiver of rights, culpability, and punishment. 

What is juvenile law?

Juvenile law addresses the law, regulations, and rules regarding individuals under the age of majority, considered 18 years of age. The age group varies from state to state, but in general, most courts will follow the following guidelines:

  • Minors under the age of seven will not be tried, even in juvenile court. However, parents may be liable.
  • Juvenile law is only those who committed criminal acts on or after their 10th birthday and under the age of 17. 
  • Children between 12 to 18 years are typically taken to juvenile court, but prosecutors will try children in this age group in adult court if they have committed a serious crime.

The juvenile system’s goal isn’t to remove juvenile offenders from society through incarceration but rather to rehabilitate them. The juvenile court has various alternatives available to determine the best course of action to take that best suits a child.

Can a minor be tried as an adult?

The U.S. made legal history when the first juvenile court was opened in Chicago in 1899. The court was founded on two principles:

  1. Juveniles lacked the maturity to take responsibility for their actions, unlike an adult. 
  2. Because their character hasn’t developed completely, the child could be rehabilitated better than an adult. 

However, this doesn’t excuse that a minor may be charged with the same offenses as adults, including violent crimes like assault, drug offenses, and property crimes. They would no longer be under the juvenile system but enter the criminal law system. Many states have determined that children as young as 13 years old are now legally responsible for their repeated criminal behavior or heinous crimes such as murder. 

What are the different types of Juvenile cases?

Generally speaking, juvenile courts handle a wide variety of cases. These cases typically break down under one of the following categories: 

  • Juvenile Delinquency cases: These are the cases involving minors, who if they were adults, their actions would be considered crimes and would result in criminal court. However, the difference between the juvenile delinquency courtroom and the adult courtroom is that the juvenile proceedings are focused on rehabilitation and avoiding any long-term repercussions. 
  • Juvenile dependency cases: These are the cases that have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or guardians. These court proceedings are more for the safety of the child.
  • Status offense cases: These cases involve status offenses with minors. This may include underage drinking or driving, runaways, truancy, curfew violations. 

Juvenile law sets individual state limits for parent liability, helping determine how responsible a parent or guardian is for the minor’s crime due to criminal or negligent behavior towards the child. Most states require that the parent pays for willful or malicious property damage and/or property damage caused by their child. 

Juvenile Court Procedure

The juvenile court procedure is different from the adult system. For example, when a juvenile commits an offense, he or she is detained rather than arrested. Juveniles may enter the juvenile court process, which involves many court hearings before trial. The following are hearings that may happen:

  • Referral to first offender program: First offender programs focus on rehabilitation for the individuals who committed a crime rather than placing them in jail or prison. Some of the things that the juvenile can do are community service, rehabilitation services, counseling. If the juvenile completes the program, the allegations may be dropped, and they may avoid court entirely. 
  • Detention hearing: The detention hearing is when the judge makes sure the juvenile is aware of why they are in court. This must occur 2 business days after being detained unless detained on a Friday or Saturday; then, it is one business day. If a juvenile is detained, there must be another hearing every 10 days while the juvenile is detained.
  • Transfer hearing: A transfer hearing is when the judge will decide if the child should be transferred to face criminal charges in adult court. If the judge sees the child “fit” the juvenile system, the child will stay. Some of the offenses that can influence the judge’s decision include murder, robbery, forcible sexual penetration, and other crimes to that certain degree. Children under 14 or who have been accused of misdemeanor crimes cant be transferred to the adult court system. 
  • Adjudication Hearing: In Texas, the juvenile has a right to a judge or jury trial. If the juvenile doesn’t plead guilty, the court will then hear the evidence and testimony that pertains to the case, and the judge decides whether the allegations made against the juvenile are true or not. 
  • Disposition Hearing: During the disposition hearing, it is determined the most appropriate form of treatment or custody for juvenile offenders.  
  • Appeal: Just like an adult, juveniles have the right to appeal the court’s decision. 

Once in court, the child is adjudicated, and a disposition is handed down. Unlike an adult record, which anyone can access under the Freedom of Information Act, the child’s records are sealed. It is designed this way to ensure the child’s protection and for the mistake not to follow him or her for the rest of their life.

Afterward, a petition will be drawn and will serve as the official charging document. The petition will outline what the child is being charged for, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction authority over the offense, and serves as a notice to the child’s family. 

What are the potential outcomes in a juvenile case?

Typically, there are two disposition options: incarceration and non-incarceration. The following are potential outcomes after adjudication of a delinquent: 

  • Probation: Probation is the most common penalty in juvenile court. The juvenile will live at home but will need to follow strict rules and restrictions. They will also need to report to a probation officer, and movements may be restricted during that time. 
  • Detention: A judge may order that a juvenile spend some time in a juvenile detention center, with a probation period followed. 
  • Texas Juvenile Justice Department detention: If a juvenile has multiple sentences or serious crimes, they can be sent to TJJD. A juvenile court can set a determinate or indeterminate sentence. An indeterminate sentence can last between 9 months to 2 years stay, with parole being an option if the juvenile shows progress in rehabilitation and treatment. A determinate sentence can last for years or even decades, requiring a transfer to an adult facility and parole. 
  • Drug abuse treatment: A case can be moved to a juvenile drug court, in which the punishment for this route would include education and treatment. 
  • Deferred prosecution: Deferred prosecution essentially dismisses the charges in exchange for serving probation. The case against the juvenile is paused while the child attempts to complete probation. If completed successfully, the case against them is dismissed. 

How can The Carlson Law Firm help?

According to Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s federal office, juvenile arrests are reaching all-time lows for violent crimes, property crimes, and theft. 

Looking for a juvenile attorney is an overwhelming decision. Although the juvenile system is generally more lenient than the adult system, it still has an impact on your child’s life. To get the best outcome for your loved one, contact us today to speak to one of our juvenile criminal attorneys. We care and we could help. 

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