If you know a juvenile who has been detained or charged with a crime, it can be helpful to understand some of the differences between juvenile law and standard criminal law cases. Here, Anggelis & Gordon, PLLC, seasoned criminal defense attorneys based in Lexington, Kentucky, offers an overview of some of the peculiarities in how the justice system deals with youth.
What Is Juvenile Law?
In most states, juvenile courts are technically considered civil courts rather than criminal and are in many ways separate from the criminal justice system. In Kentucky, juvenile law pertains to all persons under the age of 18, and the guiding principle of the juvenile court is to support the best interests of the child. For this reason, punishments may tend to be more reformative than punitive in nature.
How Often Are Formal Charges Brought?
After a case is referred to juvenile court, an intake officer will decide whether to dismiss the case, handle it informally, or file official charges. Many cases fall into the first two categories, in which case no charges are technically filed — though in cases that are handled informally, the juvenile may be ordered to complete some reform-minded activities, such as a counseling program, community service, or even probation.
How Do Formal Cases Proceed?
Juvenile cases in which formal charges are filed proceed through a number of typical steps. First is the arraignment, where the youth is formally informed of the charges and appointed a juvenile law attorney if they do not yet have one. Next is the detention hearing, where it is decided whether the youth should remain in detention until trial.
At the pretrial conference, the youth and the criminal defense attorney meet with the prosecutor to enter a plea. This is followed by the adjudicatory hearing, which proceeds similarly to a criminal trial where evidence is presented by the prosecution and a judgement is made. Finally, at the dispositional hearing, a case worker for the Department of Juvenile Justice makes a recommendation to the court for a program in the best interests of the child, which can range from community service to juvenile detention.
At any point in this process, the parties may reach an agreement for an informal adjustment — similar to a criminal plea bargain — which must be approved by the court.
Can Juveniles Be Tried As Adults?
Kentucky juvenile courts may decide to transfer a case to circuit court if certain conditions are met. These include if the youth is 14 years or older and has been charged with a serious felony, such as murder; the youth is 16 years or older and has a prior juvenile felony adjudication; or the youth has reached age 18 since the time of the offense.
If you have a loved one facing potential juvenile charges, help them find a criminal defense attorney with experience in juvenile law. In Lexington, Kentucky, call Anggelis & Gordon at (859) 255-7761 or visit their website for more information. You can also find the law firm on Facebook.