Status offenses are acts considered wrongful or chargeable only when committed by a minor. They involve restrictions placed on minors so they will be more likely to attend school, return home at a safe hour or avoid using or becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol or illegal drugs. Juveniles charged with a status offense:
- are accorded the same due-process rights as a juvenile accused of a crime.
- have a formal juvenile record if the court decides during its adjudication (guilt or innocence) phase that the youth committed a status offense. This type of record sometimes can be expunged from the court’s files when the juvenile reaches the state’s age of majority.
- are possibly assigned a risk factor by the court. In other words, once a juvenile is found to have committed one status offense, if that juvenile comes before the court accused of another status offense or a crime, his or her risk factor for being a repeat offender may justify a stricter punishment in the second case.
When a juvenile court finds that a youth has committed a status offense, a number of possible punishments may be imposed:
- The juvenile may be given a deferred adjudication. This means no formal probationary oversight and no formal ruling that the juvenile committed a status offense as long as he or she does not commit another for a specific period of time.
- The juvenile may be allowed to continue living at home but placed on probation. The probationary period usually depends on the juvenile’s prior appearances before the court or the severity of the current offense.
- A disposition may be made (based on the nature of the offense, the willingness of the youth’s parents to keep him or her at home, etc.) that the juvenile should be boarded at a state school for a period of time.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
Courts today focus on prosecuting violent gang members more than prosecuting juveniles who commit status offenses. In 1974, with the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, Congress imposed a greater uniformity and reasonableness to the handling of status offenders.
The act’s goals include:
- discouraging the confinement of status offenders after their adjudication hearings, even when courts find that they committed the alleged status offense
- making sure that juveniles entitled to stay under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction are not incarcerated within “sight or sound” of adults
- carefully checking that minority juveniles do not represent a disproportionate number of those detained based on the local population
- creating the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which conducts research and provides training and funding to state and local juvenile delinquency prevention programs
All states, territories and the District of Columbia must comply with these provisions.
Child in Need of Supervision Petition
A parent, a school official or the police may file a Child in Need of Supervision petition with a court in an effort to help a juvenile who continues to commit one or more of the following status offenses:
- running away from home
- refusing to obey curfew or continuing to act violently or disrespectfully toward one or both parents or guardians
- skipping school regularly
- abusing alcohol
- loitering in areas forbidden by the police
The accused juvenile and his or her parents must sign the petition in the presence of a probation officer, who is responsible for trying to help the family address the wrongful behavior.