Juvenile Case Process
With the exception of certain traffic, alcohol, tobacco, and watercraft violations, persons under the age of 18 years who violate any federal, state, local law or municipal ordinance are processed under the Juvenile Corrections Act. Juvenile cases are customarily handled in the magistrate division of the district court.
As a rule, neither the juvenile court nor any of its officers are allowed to initiate action to bring a juvenile before the court. Usually such action begins with law enforcement. When an officer believes that a juvenile has broken the law, he or she files a report concerning the alleged offense. If further action is desirable, a report requesting that a petition be filed with the juvenile court is submitted to the prosecuting attorney.
The prosecuting attorney reviews the case and determines if there is sufficient evidence to bring the matter before the juvenile court. If the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence, the petition is filed with the court.
A petition is the formal document that sets forth the specific act with which the juvenile is charged. Unless such a petition is filed, the juvenile may not be brought before the court, except to be released from detention.
If the probation officer concludes that formal court action would not serve the best interests of the juvenile or the public, he/she may recommend to the court that the case be dismissed or that the juvenile be diverted into a community program such as a youth court. The judge may accept or reject the recommendation.
Present at the court hearings are the judge, the in-court clerk, a probation officer, the juvenile, his/her parents, and attorneys if desired. Other persons may attend if the court opens the proceedings pursuant to court rules. Typically, such persons as school counselors and police officers may attend.
At the start of the court hearing, the judge reviews the petition to determine if the juvenile and his/her parents understand the charge. If copies of the petitions have not been served, they are delivered to the juvenile and his/her parents at the hearing.
Before the facts of the petition are discussed, the judge reviews the constitutional and legal rights of all parties. The court then determines whether or not the facts as contained in the petition are true. If the juvenile denies the charge, the case is set for hearing.
If the court finds the juvenile within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act at the conclusion of the hearing or by the juvenile's own admission, the court proceeds to make disposition.
The court has a number of alternatives in making disposition. Briefly, they are:
- dismissing the case after counseling by the judge or probation officer;
- continuing the case for a specific action (such as paying restitution) to be completed by the juvenile and then dismissing the charges;
- completing short- or long-term counseling;
- referring the defendant for psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment;
- completing probation in which the child is allowed to remain at home, subject to supervision by the court; or commitment to a juvenile detention facility for a period of 30 days or less; or referral of the child and/or his/her family to another community agency;
- committing the juvenile to the Department of Juvenile Corrections which could place the juvenile at the Juvenile Corrections Center or, in some cases, the State Mental Hospital.