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What Is Juvenile Court?

A juvenile court handles crimes committed by persons under the age of 18.
Juvenile delinquency is the broad-based term given to juveniles who commit crimes.
A shoplifting charge can land a minor in juvenile court.
The judge in juvenile court may consider school and medical records when deciding how to rule.
A juvenile court may appoint a therapist to work with a juvenile offender.
Article Details
  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 03 March 2015
  • Copyright Protected:
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Juvenile court is a court that handles cases involving individuals who are under the legal age of adulthood. This court handles delinquency cases, which are those in which a juvenile is accused of some type of crime. Juvenile court also handles child protection matters, which are also referred to as dependency cases.

In juvenile court, delinquency matters may involve a wide range of law violations, including those that aren’t considered criminal acts if performed by adults. For example, a minor may end up in court after being picked up by police for shoplifting or assault and battery. He may, however, also be referred to a juvenile court if he is truant or runs away from home. Minors may even face court proceedings after violating curfew or repeatedly disobeying their parents. Juvenile court is a likely destination for a child who is considered to be continuously defiant and out of control.

In most places, a person’s family members cannot refer him to court, at least if he’s an adult. A minor may end up in court after his parents refer him, however. Even some school officials may refer minors to court. Like adults, however, a minor may also end up in court after he has been accused or caught in the act of a crime.

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Besides the fact that a minor can end up in court for things that aren’t crimes in adulthood, a minor’s case is often handled differently as well. For example, adults are typically arrested for their crimes. A juvenile, on the other hand, may simply be taken into custody and then questioned. If the juvenile does have to appear in juvenile court, his case is usually heard by a judge. Most places do not give juveniles jury trials, at least for most crimes.

A juvenile court may consider many factors in deciding the course of justice. A court may consider circumstances surrounding the act and whether or not the juvenile has a previous history of delinquency. A judge may also consider school records and even medical history when deciding how to handle a minor’s case.

There are some cases in which a minor may end up in adult court instead of juvenile court. For example, if a minor is accused of committing murder, some jurisdictions allow him to be tried in adult court. Usually, this is reserved for minors who are at least in their teen years and have willfully committed serious acts.

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Discuss this Article

Melonlity
Post 3

@Soulfox -- Another fascinating thing is that juvenile courts in a lot of states don't enter verdicts of "guilty" or "not guilty" in criminal cases. Instead, they find charges against juveniles to be "true" or "not true."

I am not quite sure why that is, but it is a significant deviation from what we consider to be typical of courts.

Terrificli
Post 2

@Soulfox -- I agree that reforming kids going bad is part of what juvenile court is for, but can't the same be said of adult felony court? There may be more of an emphasis on reforming offenders in juvenile court, but there is an interest in that process in big boy, felony court, too.

It has long been a goal of those in the criminal justice systems to reform and punish. If there is a chance to turn a criminal into a productive citizen who contributes to the society, then there are plenty in the courts system who will try to do just that.

Turning bad kids into good ones is part of the juvenile criminal courts system, but society does not benefit if we simply lock up adult, criminal offenders and throw away the key.

Soulfox
Post 1

An interesting thing about juvenile court is that a good number of prosecutors try to help kids that are committing a lot of minor crimes who show signs that they may become criminal offenders as adults. A lot of serious, felony offenders started off with petty crimes as juveniles.

Part of the duty of juvenile prosecutors and judges, then, is to make sure that a kid who is going down a bad road can get some corrective help. That is completely different from the felony court system where the primary job of the court is to punish wrongdoers.

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