Juvenile Delinquency Case Procedures and Lingo

Posted by Chris Morales on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 @ 12:00 PM

A juvenile

CASE EXAMPLE: Officer George Wallace sees Ricky Bell, who appears to be a teenage boy, shopping at the local mall on a Wednesday morning. When Officer Wallace stops Ricky and asks him how old he is, Ricky says, "I'm 15." Ricky then tells Officer Wallace, "I wanted to shop before the mall gets crowded." Officer Wallace then takes Ricky into custody.

Question: Did Officer Wallace properly arrest Ricky?

Answer: Yes. Laws typically require minors to be in school on weekdays. Because Ricky appeared to be of school age, the officer had a right to question him. When Ricky's responses indicated that he was truant, the officer had a right to arrest him.


Do juvenile courts only have jurisdiction over cases in which juveniles are accused of committing crimes?

No. In addition to having jurisdiction over cases involving crimes committed by minors (often called "juvenile delinquency" cases), juvenile courts in most states also have jurisdiction over:

  • Cases involving minors who are allegedly abused or neglected by their parents or guardians. These are often called "juvenile dependency" cases. Abused or neglected minors may be removed from parental homes and placed with relatives or foster parents. At a minimum, parents are often ordered to undergo counseling as a condition of keeping or regaining custody. A juvenile court may also declare parents permanently unfit and approve a minor's adoption.

  • Cases involving minors who commit status offenses. A status offense is a type of violation that only a juvenile can commit. For example, a 14-year-old who skips school (is truant) for no valid reason commits a status offense if the law requires all children under the age of 16 to attend school. An adult could not violate this law.

Do the same procedures apply to dependency, status offense, and juvenile delinquency cases?

No. Even though juvenile courts may have jurisdiction over all three types of cases, different procedures typically apply to each. This chapter focuses on juvenile delinquency cases, since they are the juvenile court counterpart of adult criminal proceedings. However, keep in mind the following points about status offenses:

  • Juvenile court personnel may use the term juvenile delinquency as an umbrella term that covers both juvenile crimes and status offenses.

  • Minors who commit status offenses can sometimes end up in custody in juvenile hall. For example, if a minor violates a judge's order to attend school, the judge may send the minor to juvenile hall for disobeying the court order.

  • Minors charged with states offenses do not have a constitutional right to counsel. Some states do, however, provide attorneys to minors charged with status offenses.


Juvenile Justice Lingo:

Juvenile courts tend to have their own jargon, in part to portray a gentler image than adult criminal courts. Some of the unique terms that you may encounter if you become involved in juvenile court proceedings are as follows:

  • Adjudication: A juvenile court trial, similar to an adult trial.

  • Admission of petition: The juvenile court counterpart to a guilty plea.

  • Camp: A locked facility for juvenile offenders. Camps often house minors who will be locked up for many weeks or months, while juvenile halls tend to be temporary holding facilities. States may have various types of camps differing in degrees of security, rigidity, and facilities. Many camps have school facilities.

  • Custody order: An arrest warrant.

  • Dependency court: A branch of the juvenile court that hears cases involving minors who have allegedly been neglected or abused by parents or guardians.

  • Detention order: An order that a minor be placed in custody.

  • Disposition: A juvenile court sentence or other final order which juvenile court regulars often shorten to "dispo."

  • Dispositional hearing: A sentencing hearing.

  • Fact-finding hearing: Along with adjudication, a juvenile court term for a trial.

  • Infant: A minor, in most states a person under the age of 18.

  • Involved: The juvenile court equivalent of guilty.

  • Juvenile Hall: A jail (or temporary holding facility) for minors.

  • Petition: The juvenile court equivalent of a criminal complaint, which charges a child with a violation.

  • Referee: A judicial officer, usually a lawyer appointed by a court's presiding judge, who performs many of a judge's functions but who has not been formally elected or appointed as a judge.

  • Respondent: A juvenile court defendant.

  • Suitable placement: A court order removing a juvenile from the juvenile's parental home and placing the juvenile into a foster home, a group home, a treatment facility, a camp, or some other type of placement.

  • Sustained (Not Sustained): The equivalent of a verdict, a juvenile court finding that the charge in a petition is (or is not) true.

  • Ward of the court: A minor who is under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

Christopher Morales’ experience handling juvenile cases with compassion and respect extends to parents, as well. He can advise you and your child about your options and your rights, and help you make an informed choice.

Christopher Morales can help your child get the second chance he or she deserves.

Tags: minors, juvenile offender, juvenile court, juvenile delinquency, jurisdiction, juvenile justice