In the United States, citizens are expected to obey the law. Without the rule of law, our democracy could not stand. While equal justice under the law is the nation’s goal, the law treats adults and juveniles differently. The law deems adults as sufficiently mature to under the consequences of their actions and conduct, but deems juveniles – those under 18 — as too inexperienced, too immature, or too young to fully appreciate the seriousness of their acts, and thus, the law usually treats juveniles with a lighter hand than adults who commit similar crimes and gives a juvenile court judge more leeway in trying to help them conform their conduct to the law. Due to their age, in the criminal justice system, juveniles’ records are sealed and kept confidential; adults’ records are usually not.

But, when juveniles violate the criminal law, get in trouble, act out, hurt others or destroy property, they must answer for their misdeeds. Juveniles brush and answer to the juvenile justice system often by committing an assault, stealing property, using illegal drugs, disturbing the peace, breaking curfew, being unruly, or their parents or guardians cannot control them. When caught, they enter, encounter and answer to the juvenile justice system.

After police arrest juveniles, they are often released to their parents or guardians until the hearing date in juvenile court, ordered to appear, and answer for their acts or conduct. There, a juvenile judge reads the charges, hears testimony, and decides the accused kids’ fate. The juvenile court judge also determines whether the kids’ parents are able to deal with them, whether they pose a danger to others or themselves, or whether they need professional help or other assistance with the goal for them to learn from their mistakes and become responsible citizens.

In juvenile court, the youths may attend several hearings for adjudication, detention, and review.  Often, their parents, lawyers, district attorney, social workers or other court officials are also present. The juvenile court judge often asks them for recommendations to determine if the juvenile has learned his or her lesson, should pay for the damage or injury he or she caused, or for their views in resolving the matter.

An adjudication is similar to an adult sentencing hearing. There, a judge decides the child’s fate. At a detention hearing, the judge reads the charges against the child and determines whether the child should be sent home, to a detention center, or to an alternative place and whether the child needs a court-appointed attorney. During a review hearing, the juvenile’s case is revisited and his or her progress or lack thereof is reported.

The kid’s parent plays an important role in the juvenile court proceedings. In fact, research indicates that a parent’s presence in court correlates to the likelihood that the kid will not break the law in the future. Parents are thus critical to the process and for making the juvenile understand the seriousness of his or her acts. If the judge rules that the kid is to be sent home, his or her parents retain custody, but a different relative or individual may become the guardian of the kid as well. Conversely, if the kid is sent to a detention center, he is believed to be unruly and meets the requirements to be in state custody; however, whether the kid is in state custody also hinges on whether detaining the kid is necessary to keep the peace, protect the child, or ensure that the child appears in court. The juvenile could be also sent to therapy programs, day treatments, or youth development centers.

If you have a child who is in trouble with the law or is ordered or directed to appear in juvenile court, your child and you have rights. If you have questions, contact Attorney Perry A. Craft. He can answer your questions, explain the process, and vigorously represent your child and you.