Juvenile Justice

The Juvenile Justice System is similar to the Adult Justice System but has some significant twists and turns. A juvenile is defined as someone who is under the age of 18 years of age at the time they have allegedly committed a crime. The crimes are the same as those charged against adults be they misdemeanors or felonies as well as degrees of each, 1st, 2nd and 3rd.


To better understand the Juvenile Justice System I have broken down the process into 6 phases and will provide a brief synopsis of what happen at each stage. This should not be considered as a step–by-step outline on how to navigate the Juvenile Justice System but rather viewed as a AAA trip ticket, showing you the different stops and turns a trip through the Juvenile Justice System you may encounter.








Your child has been caught by a law enforcement officer, allegedly committing a crime. A new program has been developed that now allows the law enforcement official to make the determination to issue the juvenile a citation and send them on their way versus the conventional method of detaining them and placing them into custody. It is up to the law enforcement officer and his agency rules on whether to issue a citation or not but some factors that could be taken into consideration are the seriousness of the alleged crime committed (misdemeanor versus felony), were there any victims who have injuries, the amount of damage caused, whether the juvenile has been in trouble before (prior record), and whether the juvenile is cooperating.









Once again, your child has been caught by a law enforcement officer, allegedly committing a crime. But instead of being given a civil citation they are detained. In the Adult Justice System this is called being arrested however in the Juvenile Justice System this is called being taken into custody. Once a juvenile is taken into custody they will be referred to their local Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) or an on-call screener will be called for to assess the juvenile. It is at this time that the parents or guardian of the juvenile will be contacted and informed what has occurred up to that point.





The juvenile while at the JAC is assessed using the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI). This assessment is used to determine if the juvenile meets detention criteria and to determine whether the juvenile should be placed in secure detention, non-secure detention or home detention (known in adult justice detention as house arrest), prior to detention hearing. During this assessment the screener also determines whether the juvenile is eligible for a Juvenile Justice Diversion Program, whether they should possibly be charged as an adult or referred to the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). The JDAI identifies low-risk juvenile offenders who would benefit being moved from secure detention to community based alternative programs.


It should be noted that the decision to prosecute a juvenile is the local State Attorney’s Office (SAO) decision. Each SAO acts independently concerning this action. Some of the SAO’s are more proactive in perusing this action than others. There is no way to determine for purposes of this information whether a juvenile will or will not be prosecuted as an adult.






The juvenile may be held in a secured detention facility depending on the risk level to the juvenile and others or if the juvenile has no place to go where there is adult supervision. If the juvenile’s status changes they could be released prior to their court date.






The juvenile may also be released to an adult to wait their court date at home. This detention will have restrictions applied that both the juvenile and the adult must agree to. If the juvenile is found to have broken these restrictions they may find themselves in custody again and this time placed in secure detention till their court date.






When a juvenile arrives for their court date either a private attorney of their choosing or a public defender may represent them. During their court hearing they will undergo what is called an adjudicatory hearing, which is a non-jury trial. This means the Judge will hear the evidence, determine whether the State has proven its case, and if the answer to that question is “YES” then the Judge will determine the outcome and sentence the juvenile or apply sanctions.


There are five basic outcomes to the adjudication hearing: Case is Nolle Prossed; Guilty, Not Guilty; Adjudication Withheld and Adjudication.


If the case is Nolle Prossed that means the State Prosecutor has for what could be a variety of reasons chosen to drop the charges and the case will not be prosecuted. If the juvenile is found Not Guilty the case is closed.


If after the Adjudication Hearing the Judge finds that the juvenile has committed the delinquent act they can withhold adjudication of guilt on the juvenile. This will usually come with a sentence of some type of community supervision. In adult course this is called probation.


If after the Adjudication Hearing the Judge finds that the juvenile has committed the delinquent act they can then commit the juvenile residential facility or sentence to the juvenile some type of community supervision.






If the juvenile’s case is either nolle prossed or they are found not guilty of the diligent act they are released from the court system and all previously imposed restrictions. If either of these actions occurs the juvenile may want to look into having their record sealed and or expunged. (See previous blog concerning sealing or expunging a file posted earlier on this blog.)


If the juvenile’s case was heard and the Judge finds them guilty the Judge may withhold adjudication. The juvenile will then meet with their Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO) and a Youth Empowered Success (YES) Plan will be developed. The YES Plan is used by the JPO and the other court and probation personnel along with the information gathered in the Positive Achievement Change Tool (PACT), to determine the juveniles needs, strengths and risk to re-offend again. These two tools are used by the JPO to create goals and actions in collaboration with the juvenile and their family that the juvenile must complete successfully in order to be released from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) system, however, they may continue to remain under some type of supervision.


If the case was heard and the Judge adjudicated the juvenile guilty the Judge can commit the juvenile to a residential facility for at least 60 to 90 days for low risk juveniles and up to 18 to 36 months for maximum risk juveniles. The Judge can as an alternative to placing the juvenile in a residential facility place them on community supervision, same as if adjudication had been withheld. If the Judge orders community supervision in this case the biggest difference is that the juvenile cannot apply for their record to be sealed and or expunged. Once the juvenile successfully completes either their time in a residential facility or successfully completes their community supervision they may be released from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) system, however, they may remain under some type of community supervision.