Juvenile Crime Juvenile Crime: Process, Prosecution & Rehabilitation

Who is legally considered a juvenile or a "minor" and how does the juvenile court handle crimes committed by minors? What rights does your minor child have if arrested?

Definition of a Juvenile or Minor

In most states, a person under the age of 18 is considered to be a juvenile or a "minor." In eleven states, a juvenile is legally defined as a person under the age of 17 (Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas.) In three states, a juvenile refers to a person under the age of sixteen (Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina.)

Juvenile Prosecution

While crimes committed by juveniles can be prosecuted by the federal government, they are cases usually handled by state and city courts. Defendants in a juvenile criminal case have the same rights as an adult and some additional rights. Most states will not allow juvenile court records to be open to the public and will seal them. Later, when the juvenile applies for employment, the applicant is not usually required to divulge the applicant's prior juvenile record. Prosecuting juvenile crimes is not done with the intention of punishing the child but rehabilitation - it is a process where the court seeks to reform them and create responsible adults. There is assumption that these young people are able to be "salvaged" and should not be given criminal records, so they can be rehabilitated by having a clear adult life.

Arrest and Booking of a Juvenile

When juveniles are caught committing a crime, they are arrested like any other adult. Any statement the juvenile makes to the arresting officer can be used against them. Upon arrest, juveniles are escorted to the police station to be fingerprinted and have their photo taken. After officer is required to immediately notify the minor's parent or guardian of the arrest and the minor is allowed two phone calls - one to a parent and one to an attorney. The juvenile has the right to representation and does not have to talk to the police without their lawyer being present. If either the minor or the parents/guardian demand an attorney, one will be appointed if they cannot afford their own juvenile lawyer.

Booking and Detention

The process of taking fingerprints and photos is called booking. Depending upon what type of crime was committed, the child may then be released into the custody of the parent or guardian. Certain types of crimes will require that the child be detained in a juvenile facility, at least until they are given the initial detention hearing. Federal law requires that juveniles be kept in a separate location than adult inmates. In fact, juveniles are not allowed to be in the same incarceration area as an adult for more than six hours.

Juveniles can only be held for a short time in a detention facility without having a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to keep the child detained or release them to the parent or rehabilitation program.

Rehabilitation Programs

A judge may decide that a child should be placed into a community rehabilitation program instead of remaining in a detention facility. In a rehabilitation program, a child will get counseling and receive other social services. The child would not have to be entered into the juvenile criminal justice system when placed in a rehabilitation program. There may also be a Youth Accountability Board in your community that allows residents in the community to decide how to rehabilitate a child.

Juvenile Justice Process

If your child is entered into the juvenile justice system, the processing may be different in each community but will basically follow a similar agenda. You can expect the following:
  • After the initial intake and booking of the juvenile, the prosecutor or probation department may decide to place the child in a rehabilitation program. There might otherwise be a request that the child be remanded to juvenile court or a complete dismissal of the case.
  • If your child's case is dismissed, your child may still be required to cooperate with curfews, attend counseling sessions, or agree to pay victim restitution. There will be a written "consent decree" that the child must sign. To be eligible for a consent decree, the child will have to admit to committing the offense. Afterwards, there will also be the possibility of the child being placed on probation as well.
  • If it is a serious crime, such as murder, a judge will be the one to decide if the child is fit to undergo a trial. The judge will also make a decision on whether the case should be tried in an adult court or stay in juvenile court. Serious crimes are generally required by most states to be tried in adult criminal court, especially when all other rehabilitation efforts have failed.
  • Instead of a trial, there could be an adjudicatory hearing where witnesses will testify. Adjudicatory hearings are usually not tried by a jury but are held in front of a judge.
  • When a judge finds the juvenile guilty, most often there will be a psychological exam ordered for the juvenile. Probation officers will inform the judge of the testing results and will tell the judge what their recommendations are for the juvenile. This is called the "disposition plan."
  • At the disposition hearing, the judge will make decisions on a number of items such as (where applicable) probation length, detention length, drug counseling requirements and restitution orders for the victim.
  • Once the juvenile has completed all of the judge's orders, the case will then be dismissed. This is called "Case Termination."
Hiring a good lawyer will ensure protection of the rights of your child. It can help to reduce the impact of a juvenile arrest on your child's adult life.
Criminal Law & Procedure
Criminal Procedure
About author
Michael Wechsler
Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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