How Does the Process Differ from the Treatment of Adults in the Criminal Justice System?
In every state, there’s a separate court system and process for addressing acts of minors that violate the law. Juvenile courts have jurisdiction over minors, though a juvenile may be prosecuted as an adult under certain circumstances. The juvenile justice system is based on the belief that juveniles do not have fully-formed character and therefore have more potential for rehabilitation. A greater effort is made in juvenile proceedings to provide opportunities for offenders to develop good citizenship and socially acceptable behavior. Accordingly, juvenile courts place less emphasis on punitive measures such as incarceration.
What Is the Legal Process When a Juvenile Is Subject to Arrest?
Juvenile arrest procedures are governed by state law, so there are some differences from state to state. However, as a general rule, there are a couple of ways that law enforcement officers respond when a minor violates the law:
- Temporary detention—The officer may temporarily detain the minor, typically until a parent or guardian arrives. Commonly referred to as “counsel and release,” this approach involves giving the juvenile a warning and then letting them go. The officer is not required to release the minor into the custody of a parent or guardian but often does so.
- Arrest—If the infraction is more serious, or the officer recognizes the minor as a repeat offender, the officer may, at their discretion, place the juvenile under arrest and take the minor to the police station. At the police station, the officer has additional options, including placement of the minor in a juvenile detention facility, release of the minor into protective custody (such as child protective services or the care of a social worker), or the release of the juvenile into the custody of his or her parents.
If the officer arrests a juvenile and places them in juvenile detention, the minor’s case will be referred to the juvenile court system. When this happens, a prosecutor or juvenile court officer assumes responsibility for the juvenile’s case. The prosecutor or court officer will choose whether to drop the charges, resolve the allegations informally, or file a juvenile delinquency petition (a formal charge). When deciding whether to bring charges, there are certain factors that the prosecutor or juvenile court officer will take into consideration:
- The age of the minor—charges are less likely for younger juveniles
- The severity of the charges
- Whether the juvenile has a prior record
- The nature and strength of the evidence against the juvenile
- The perceived ability of the child’s parents to manage their behavior