A vast amount of the current laws and legislation in the U.S. pertain to the age group that accounts for a majority of the country’s population: adults. But what about laws surrounding criminal proceedings involving a juvenile? Juvenile law is a unique area of law that pertains specifically to legal concerns or crimes involving a minor/s.

Proceedings are often carried out in a different court of law entirely, the juvenile criminal court, and more often than not treat a minor differently than an adult. While many constitutional rights remain the same for both age groups, there are some key differences to be aware of.

What Happens in Juvenile Court

If a minor is involved in a case that is brought forward to juvenile criminal court, they could run the risk of receiving a conviction, which may result in going to a juvenile facility. Juveniles are often more likely to receive counseling, therapy, community service and other rehabilitative programs in place of a punishment. Additionally, most proceedings involving a juvenile are often confidential, despite the fact that the juvenile’s criminal record will continue to impact that minor’s future opportunities for employment, military service or community volunteering.

In many cases, juvenile court proceedings are not at all dissimilar to that of an adult but are often handled in a more informal manner. According to federal law, every juvenile facing a possible conviction has a right to know the charges against them and just like adults, have a right to seek legal counsel. Juvenile jurisdiction varies significantly from state to state, with a court’s specific jurisdiction determining the facility’s overall design and setup.

In a number of states, both juvenile and family law cases are held in separate court facilities, while in some states the practice areas are considered just a general division of trial court. Juvenile and family courts can try offenses including delinquency, child abuse, neglect, divorce, domestic violence, adoption, guardianship, custody and supervision. On the other side, in a strictly juvenile court, offenses can range anywhere from shoplifting to possession of illegal substances or alcohol.

Legal Counsel for Juvenile Cases

No matter the case against them, a juvenile has the right to seek out legal counsel or receive assistance from an attorney in regard to their case. Conversely, though a minor holds the right to legal counsel, they don’t hold the right to a jury-based trial in a majority of states. With that being said, some states including Alaska and Massachusetts choose to allow for juvenile jury trials, which is not mandatory under federal law.

Additionally, every state has different laws determining the overall age of criminal responsibility. In most states, the age is 18 while others consider the age as low as 14. After a juvenile reaches the age of majority, they can be considered and charged as an adult in a federal court of law. In instances where a juvenile is younger than the state’s majority age, the state can still allow for penalties to continue until the age of 21.

For example, if a 16-year-old receives a conviction for crime, the court is legally within their right to hold that minor in a juvenile facility until they reach 21. Cases where a minor is charged as an adult are quite rare legal occurrences but is completely possible and often seen for more serious crimes such as homicide or criminal sexual misconduct.

As previously stated, no matter the state or case against an individual, any juvenile has the right to receive legal counsel. If you find yourself in need of legal assistance, start researching for lawyers or attorneys specializing in the field of juvenile law and immediately schedule a consultation with them.