Long ago, Utah decided children and their needs are different from adults and a separate court system was required to meet those needs. Also, many believed that if children did something wrong, they could be rehabilitated through intensive counseling, education, and guidance, whereas law-breaking adults might be less open to rehabilitation.
Today, our juvenile courts serve three distinctly different kinds of kids:
First, there are children who have committed an act that if committed by an adult would be considered criminal.
Second, there are children who have committed status offenses. These are activities that are only wrong because they are committed by minors. If they were committed by adults, they would not be considered illegal at all. Examples of status are truancy, running away from home, violating curfew, or simply being outside of the control of your parents.
And finally, there are the children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. In these circumstances, the court must decide who is going to be responsible for the care of these children. This is done through court hearings which are held to determine questions of dependency. In some cases, temporary custody is taken from the parents and the children are placed in foster care. Parents are then ordered to get counseling before their children are returned. In other cases, the parents' right to their children is taken away entirely and these children are put up for adoption.
An exception to the three primary categories of kids described above are the children who are age 14 or older and have committed a very serious crime. Under these circumstances, the court, upon the urging of the district attorney's office can transfer a child from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system. When this occurs, a hearing is held to determine whether the minor is suited for the juvenile justice process or would be more appropriately treated if transferred to the adult court system.
Again, a District Attorney will usually only recommend that a child be transferred to the adult courts when the child has allegedly committed an extremely serious offense, such as murder, arson, armed robbery, forcible sex crimes, kidnapping, assault, shooting a firearm into an occupied building, selling or providing certain drugs to other minors, or other aggravated offenses.
If the child remains in the juvenile justice system he may be kept under the court's jurisdiction until the age of 21 if he was less than 16 when he became a ward of the court. If the child is more than 16 years old when charged with a crime, the child will remain a ward of the court until the age of 25.
When kids are picked up as either delinquents or status offenders police and juvenile probation officers have discretion to release kids and send them home to their parents. If children are held by the police or the probation department, however, laws require that those who are status offenders be held separate and apart from children charged as delinquents or adults who have been arrested.
If a child is taken into custody, he must either be released within 48 hours or have a petition for wardship filed against him. During this time, the parents must be notified about what is going on and/or the intent of the probation department to have their child made a ward of the court. During these proceedings, minors have a right to a lawyer and have most of the procedural rights given adult defendants. But juvenile defendants, unlike adults, have no right to a jury trial, and no right to bail.
Trials and juvenile court proceedings are called adjudication hearings. If a child is found guilty of the crime at an adjudication hearing, a dispositional hearing is scheduled. At the dispositional hearing, the state decides what would be the court's appropriate response, keeping in mind that the overriding aim of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youthful offenders and get them back on the right track. The court has various options. A judge may place the child on probation, seek restitution, assign the child to community service or place her in a halfway house or foster care. A juvenile offender also may be sent to a training school or a secure facility. (A secure facility is also known as "lock-up," where the juveniles are not allowed the freedom to leave.)
Sealing or destroying juvenile records is a complicated process and may not be possible if the child has been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, or if not enough time has passed since the child's conviction. Usually, records can be sealed after five years from the termination of the juvenile court's jurisdiction or as soon as the juvenile becomes 18. Once sealed, the minor's records may not be opened for inspection unless ordered by the court.
If you or your child have become involved with the juvenile court and need advice or representation, call Douglas D. Terry & Associates today for more information. We are the longest serving criminal defense law firm in St. George; we work with clients throughout Southern Utah.
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