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What to expect in a juvenile court proceeding

As you might expect, juvenile court proceedings are conducted very differently from adult proceedings. This relates back to the rationale for juvenile courts to be more rehabilitative and less punitive, and is supported by the copious amounts of research pertaining to juvenile brain development and culpability. With this in mind, juvenile courts operate under this framework in a very unique manner. If you find yourself or your child involved in a juvenile case it is important to have a basic understanding of this court system.

For instance, there are various ways that a juvenile may become involved in the juvenile court system. This includes three basic types of juvenile cases. Juvenile delinquency cases involve juveniles who have committed crimes. These actions if committed by an adult would be charged in criminal court. Where a juvenile commits such a crime the case is handled through delinquency proceedings in juvenile court. Juveniles may find themselves in juvenile court for what are referred to as status offenses; these cases involve juvenile-specific offenses such as underage drinking or driving, curfew violations or truancy. Finally, unrelated to criminal actions, juvenile courts can hear cases of juvenile dependency, which may involve circumstances of abuse, neglect or abandonment of a minor.

Juvenile court proceedings themselves differ greatly from adult court proceedings. At the outset of juvenile court cases, a juvenile is detained rather then arrested. A petition is then drawn up which serves as the official charging document and gives notice the juvenile and the family of the reason for the juvenile's court appearance. Once in the courtroom, juvenile court proceedings are private and juvenile court records are sealed unlike adult courtrooms and records that are open to the public. This is done to protect the juvenile from future repercussions resulting from having a juvenile case. The juvenile's record may also be expunged by the court upon the juvenile turning 18, if certain conditions have been met.

In addition to being private, juvenile court proceedings are also, generally, much less formal then adult proceedings. Likewise, the disposition of a juvenile case is intended to be through the least detrimental alternative available to the juvenile.

These types of cases often present very unique circumstances and the laws pertaining to juvenile cases can vary widely from state to state. It is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in juvenile law matters and can assist you with navigating this process and preparing your case.

Source:, Juvenile Court Procedure, accessed May 08, 2018.

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