Juvenile Process

Juvenile Process in the United States

Steps followed to adjudicate charges of criminal conduct by minors. The juvenile process is located in juvenile courts, which are created by statute in each of the fifty states. Jurisdiction of juvenile courts is derived directly from a child’s status as a minor. Juvenile status is commonly defined as age eighteen or younger, and the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over minors who commit conventional criminal acts, those kinds of crimes such as assault or robbery that have exact counterparts for adults. Criminal conduct for a juvenile is called delinquency. Juvenile courts also have jurisdiction over status offenses, acts that stem directly from juvenile status and for which adults are not prosecuted. Truancy is an example of a status offense. While the processes may vary slightly across the states, there is a similar pattern to the juvenile process in most states. The process usually begins with an arrest. Law enforcement authorities who arrest juveniles may decide not to refer the case at all or divert a juvenile to some other agency. If, on the other hand, the case is formally referred, it is done through the filing of a delinquency petition. Juvenile authorities then conduct an intake interview, which roughly corresponds to a preliminary examination in the adult process. This review may or may not be extensive, but its objective is to determine whether the case ought to remain in the process, be diverted to an agency outside the juvenile court structure, or be dismissed altogether. If the case is continued for adjudication, at least two other questions may be considered. Normally juveniles are released to the custody of their parents pending adjudication. Some juveniles, however, may need to be detained during this period. Detention can only occur following a formal hearing. Second, some cases may be transferred to adult court. These are cases where the offense is serious and the juvenile probably has an extensive record of delinquency. In order for a case to be transferred, the juvenile court must waive its jurisdiction over the case. Such a decision can only be made after a formal waiver hearing. The cases that remain in juvenile court move to an adjudication hearing, a stage where evidence is taken on the delinquency allegation. The adjudication hearing is quite formalized, but is somewhat less adversarial in character than an adult trial. If the adjudication hearing produces a finding of delinquency, a final hearing must be held to determine appropriate disposition of the case.

See Also

Diversion (Criminal Process) Juvenile Court (Criminal Process) Status Offense (Criminal Process).

Analysis and Relevance

The establishment of a separate court process for juveniles occurred around 1900. The objective was to implement the parens patriae concept that the state has a special quasi-parental role with minors. It was contended that with separate juvenile processes, minors could be dealt with in a way different from adults. The approach of juvenile courts was to be paternalistic and nonadversarial. Prior to the 1960s, the influence of parens patriae led to a highly informal juvenile process. While this informality was generally benevolent, juveniles possessed virtually none of the constitutional protections available to adults. Assistance of counsel, for example, was not required and evidentiary rules were substantially relaxed. This situation changed rather dramatically in the mid-1960s as the Warren Court imposed a number of legal requirements on juvenile proceedings. Three Court decisions form the foundation for these changes. The first was Kent v. United States (383 U.S. 541: 1966), which involved the waiver of jurisdiction by a juvenile court to allow transfer of a juvenile’s case to adult court. The juvenile judge had transferred the case without making any findings in a formal proceeding and had not offered any reasons in support of the transfer decision. The Supreme Court imposed several specific procedural requirements on the transfer process including a hearing, representation by counsel, and access to all records and reports on the juvenile that might be germane to the transfer. Kent was limited to a relatively small number of cases involving waiver to adult courts. Nonetheless, it clearly conveyed the Court’s growing concern for the fundamental fairness of juvenile proceedings. A more comprehensive pronouncement was to come in In re Gault (387 U.S. 1: 1967). The Court recognized that juvenile and adult proceedings had been intentionally different up to that point in time, but said that the differences could not remain at the cost of basic constitutional protections. Although juveniles benefitted from the informal process, the Court sought to add some procedural protections. “Under our Constitution,” said the Court, “the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.” The holding in Gault required that delinquency proceedings that may lead to detention must provide juveniles with access to counsel, with appointed counsel in the in-stance of indigency, adequate notification of charges with a right to confront witnesses, and the privilege against self-incrimination. The Court reiterated views first expressed in Kent that proceedings “must measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment.” The third case of this group was In re Winship (397 U.S. 358: 1970). In Winship the Court considered whether juvenile courts could continue to use the civil standard of preponderance of evidence to determine delinquency. Using the old civil standard as provided by state law, Winship was found guilty of robbery. The Court determined that proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was an essential element of due process. The informality that marked juvenile processes before Kent and Gault was clearly a thing of the past after Winship. After Gault, juvenile processes have continued to become more formalized.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Juvenile Process from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Juvenile Process: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Juvenile Process. This part provides references, in relation to Juvenile Process, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Juvenile Process by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Juvenile Process and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Juvenile Process or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Juvenile Process and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Juvenile Process. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Juvenile Process should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Juvenile Process when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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