Juvenile Court

What You Need To Know About Juvenile Court

The juvenile justice system is separate and different from the criminal justice system, so if you or someone you know are facing charges as a juvenile, it’s a good idea to become familiar with how the system works.

Every state has juvenile courts that work with minors who have been charged with violating a criminal statute. The procedures are treated as civil instead of criminal, which means that juveniles are charged with committing a delinquent act rather than a crime.

When a prosecutor or probation officer files a civil petition against a minor, they charge that minor with violating a criminal statue and set in motion the court process that determines whether the juvenile is delinquent. If the court determines that the charges are valid, the juvenile will face the juvenile court, who will decide the best actions to take. The juvenile court usually obtains legal authority over the minor until they become an adult, or sometimes, even beyond that time.

What Makes Someone Eligible for Juvenile Court?

You must be considered a “juvenile” under your state’s particular law in order to eligible for juvenile court. In most states, you can’t be older than 17. Kids who are 17 and under typically go to juvenile court if they are accused to breaking the law or they are arrested. Some states, however, have different rules about what’s considered “juvenile.” In some states, the highest age considered a minor is 16. As of 2013, in New York and California, 15 is the oldest. But those states have been considering changing the cut-off age depending on crimes committed. In 2017. Mew York shifted most defendants aged 16 or 17 back to juvenile court. The state of Vermont even raised the age limit to 21, so it really just depends on the state.


Children younger than age 7 are usually considered incapable of knowing right from wrong, so they are excused from any acts they commit. Sometimes, parents must pay compensation to anyone affected by the acts of their young children. Some courts will even deem a parent unfit to care for a child who has committed a crime.

Types of Cases in Juvenile Court

There are several kinds of cases heard in juvenile court, and not all are delinquency cases, which involve an act of crime. Other kinds of court case typically heard in juvenile court are dependency cases and status offenses. There are different procedures involved for all three of these case types.

  • Juvenile delinquency cases. These cases pertain to minors who have committed a crime. If this crime had been committed by an adult, it would be handled in a regular criminal court.
  • Juvenile dependency cases. These cases involve minors who are abused by their parents or guardians, and they are also heard in juvenile court. The hearing involves a judge deciding whether or not a minor should stay with their parents or guardians or be removed from the home.
  • Status offenses. A status offense is a crime that only pertains to minors. For instance, truancy (skipping school), violating curfew, running away from home, or sometimes, underage drinking.

Consulting A Lawyer

The procedures in juvenile court are very different from those used in criminal court. The police, prosecutors, and judges are given a lot of discretion when it comes to making decisions about the case. Typically, a lot of young people tried in criminal court never go to a hearing. It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer if your child is facing juvenile court charges. A lawyer can help you to determine what the laws are in your particular state, as well as give you information about how the court process will work. You’ll also want representation, especially if your child’s case does reach a trial.

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