When juveniles commit crimes, the court treats them differently from adults - especially if they come from a background of abuse or neglect. The court aims to save juvenile offenders from the path they're on and rehabilitate them through counseling and other efforts.
But this doesn't always work. Some juveniles are repeat offenders who commit serious crimes. In these instances, the law permits most courts to decide penalties for these offenders on a case-by-case basis.
Arrest Procedures May Depend on the Officer
When a juvenile is charged with a misdemeanor - usually a minor offense - the arresting officer might call the parents and release the child into their custody. This doesn't mean the officer won't charge the juvenile with the crime, but only that the child can go home until the next hearing date.
Police officers have the option of sending the minor to a juvenile detention facility instead. This might happen with more serious offenses or if the authorities can't locate a family member or some other responsible adult. Juvenile felonies almost always involve detention.
Bail Isn't Usually a Factor
Generally, juvenile offenders do not have the right to bail. When a minor is held in detention, most states will schedule a first hearing very soon after arrest. The judge can also decide to release the juvenile to a parent or guardian. The adult must promise to return the minor to court for trial. When serious charges are involved, a judge might decide to keep the minor in a detention facility until trial.
Juvenile Hearings Have Different Rules
Juveniles do not have the right to jury trials. A judge decides their guilt and sentence. Usually, the hearing is closed - although the judge can decide to open it to the public. In some states, if the juvenile is accused of a felony, the courtroom is open just as it would be for an adult trial.
Juveniles Can Be Tried as Adults
Judges can decide to try juveniles as adults, and this decision is often made at the first hearing. Most state laws don't allow a minor younger than 14 to be tried as an adult. When this happens, the crime must generally be a felony.
With some very serious crimes, such as murder, judges don't have a choice - the law automatically tries a juvenile as an adult if the child is 16 or older. When judges choose this option, they'll usually order a mental health evaluation first to try to decide if the child can be rehabilitated rather than sent to an adult prison if convicted.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding a crime committed by your child is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.