Scales of Justice

What Happens in a Juvenile Case?

Juvenile legal cases represent a special section of criminal law that deals specifically with those who fall below a minimum age to be tried as adults. Because of their age and minor status, juvenile offenders receive special consideration under juvenile law, and the penalties are not as stringent as those for comparable crimes committed by adults. The minimum age for adult trial is different from state to state, ranging from the most common age of 18 to 16 in a handful of jurisdictions. Regardless of their crimes, offenders in the juvenile court system are entitled to quality representation from a juvenile criminal defense attorney in Anne Arundel County.

Because of the minor status of those charged in juvenile cases, all parties who participate in the legal system, from arresting officers to judges, have the leeway under juvenile law to tailor outcomes that are rehabilitative rather than punitive as a way of accounting for youthful actions. The ultimate goal of juvenile law is to provide a legal framework that allows young offenders a chance to steer clear of further legal entanglements later in life that will have more grave consequences. Though the juvenile law code differs in each state, there are a few common threads that unite them. To learn about the specifics in your area, consult with a juvenile criminal attorney. In the meantime, read on to learn what usually happens during the course of a criminal case.

Arrest or Referral to Juvenile Court

There are many ways that a juvenile can enter the court system, but most cases begin with contact with a law enforcement officer. Officers have greater latitude for dealing with juvenile offenders than with adults accused of crimes. Juveniles may be arrested by the officer, remanded to the custody of their parents or guardians, or notified of an infraction through a warning and allowed to move on without arrest.

Juvenile Court Intake

Once a juvenile is arrested or otherwise ordered to court, the case is handed off to an intake officer. The intake officer can be an officer of the court, a prosecutor, or a probation officer. That officer’s role is to determine the disposition of the case and how it should be handled. Again, the intake officer has flexibility regarding the way the case is handled, as it may be dismissed outright with the charges dropped. It can also be handled informally through means outside of the court. Finally, it can be petitioned, or tried, before the juvenile court. The decision regarding which option to pursue is usually determined by the severity of the crime, the prior record of the offender, the juvenile’s age, the merit of the case, and level of parental control exercised over the juvenile by guardians.

Gavel

Juvenile Proceedings

If the case is dismissed, the charges are dropped and there is no further interaction with the court. If the case is handled informally, there are many options at the disposal of the intake officer to provide support, counseling, and rehabilitation for the juvenile within the legal framework. The offender can be given the choice to pay restitution to the victims of the crime, attend classes or counseling, perform community service, pay a fine, or accept probation. If, however, the case is petitioned for trial, there is a formal arraignment process before the juvenile court judge. At that time, circumstances may warrant that the juvenile will be charged as an adult, and the offender is referred to the adult legal system. If the case is to be tried in juvenile court, the judge decides whether the juvenile is to remain in custody or await trial at home. Several things can happen after arraignment. The juvenile offender can enter a plea agreement in which leniency may be offered if the juvenile meets certain conditions set forth by the court. The case may be diverted by the judge, which means that the judge puts the case on hold while the juvenile complies with other court ordered activities such as counseling or restitution. The case can also be tried in an adjudicatory hearing, in which the judge rather than a jury hears the evidence and rules on the case. If the juvenile is found delinquent, the petition is sustained. The judge issues a disposition or sentence based on recommendations from a probation officer, and those dispositions can include confinement, counseling, probation, or payments to the victim.

The juvenile court system operates differently than the adult justice system out of a desire to protect the rights of minors while providing a rehabilitative framework for those accused of crimes. To learn more about what happens during a juvenile case, contact Ortega Law, LLC today.