As laws began to be developed to protect the rights, safety and interests of children, the Juvenile Justice system evolved. Today, juvenile courts hear any matter in which a minor is the subject of a case, a perpetrator and/or a victim. With a mission of rehabilitation of children and families, juvenile courts offer remedies that focus on counseling, diversion, community service, and community monitoring as well as detention.
A juvenile court, in many states, is a general district court which is run by a Clerk of Court and administrators, but whose cases and controversies are handled by a team of judges. These judges are specially trained in areas that impact youth and families. Some may have been criminal defense attorneys, assistant attorney generals or prosecutors. Assisting the judges are bailiffs or deputies. In some states, the deputies serve process on witnesses and parties as well as make sure the courthouse is secure.
If a matter is handled in juvenile court, it may very well have initiated through the filing of papers at the court. Issues such as custody, visitation, child in need of services/supervision, relief of custody and abuse and neglect petitions can be filed at the juvenile court. Criminal matters may originate with a magistrate or polcie department, but ultimately like the other matters heard in a juvenile court, arraignment, adjudication adn disposition are handled by this special district court.
When a person is accused of a crime, they are served with a summons which compels them to come to court. Once received, the youth will be arraigned. An arraignment is a short hearing inwhich the Court reviews the allegations against the youth and explains to them their rights. Attorneys are generally appointed, if the youth and his parents, are indigent. A court date to hear the evidence is set.
An adjudication is the same as a trial. These are held for criminal as well as civil matters. During an adjudicatory hearing, a youth, through his counsel, offers evidence in support of innocence. Witnesses and documents may be presented as well. At this stage, a judge may decide or “make a finding” on the issues before him or her. The result could be a change in custody, guilt of a crime, or consideration that the juvenile has been abuse or neglected.
Following adjudication, comes disposition, which is similar to sentencing in a criminal case. In this stage of the juvenile court process, the court decides the outcome or resolution of a case. If it is a criminal matter, a judge may order restitution, community service, detention or committment to a state’s Department of Juvenile Corrections. If it is a traffic offense, a court may offer warnings or restrictions on driving privileges. If the matter is one involving abuse and neglect, a court may order parents into treatment and children into foster care.
With over one hundred years of history in the American justice system, juvenile courts play a crucial role in American jurisprudence. Controversies, crimes and cases that involve anyone under 18 years of age are handled by this special court which works to rehabilitate youth and families. Serving its city and county, juvenile courts stand as a hallmark for the protection of youth in a community.