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The path for juvenile offenders is different from convicted adults. So, how is the juvenile justice system different and what happens when a minor is charged with a crime?

Juvenile vs. Adult Justice

The juvenile system differs from the adult criminal justice system in almost every way from its approach to discipline to the terminology. For example, minors are criminals they are offenders, and there are not trials – there are hearings instead. Every part of the juvenile system is dedicated to rehabilitation and solving the root cause of criminal behavior.

In general, the juvenile justice system is focused on prevention and rehabilitation as opposed to criminal procedure for adults which is based on punishment. In the adult criminal justice system, offenders are punished to discourage them from reoffending and there is little room for redemption one a person is a part of the system. In some ways, the mentality is that because these offenders are adults, they should know better, but they are too old to change.

Juvenile offenders on the other hand, have opportunities to change and improve over time and under the right conditions. Instead of focusing on the offenses, the system is targeted at the reasons why a minor may commit a crime. If the offense cannot be prevented, then the system works to determine the motive behind it and how to correct that behavior so the offender can reenter society.

The Juvenile Process

When a minor is taken into police custody, their case can go in one of three directions: the case is dropped, a rehabilitation plan is put in place, the offender is sent to a detention center. However, before that can take place, the Office of Prevention and Victim Services utilizes programs and services to prevent children from contacting the justice system. In some cases, the Office may assist families with rehabilitation to help the offender avoid going deeper into the system.

If prevention fails, the minor goes through the intake process. The first step is taking the offender into police custody. Once the juvenile is with police, they undergo a DRAI Assessment. This is the determining factor in all juvenile cases that can lead to the resolution of the case or further investigation and disciplinary action.

During a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) Assessment, test administrators evaluate the scope of the offense and the history of the offender. The following factors are a part of this assessment:

  • Prior charges pending
  • Current charges
  • Prior detentions
  • Age at first felony
  • History of escape
  • Potential for reoffending

Based on these factors, the juvenile could either be recommended for release or detention. If the juvenile is a repeat offender or they are at high risk for reoffending, the test administrator is likely to send them to the adjudicatory hearing.

During the hearing, the judge will hear the case and based on the evidence presented, decide regarding the placement of the offender. In some cases, there is evidence to suggest that a parent or another adult coerced the child into committing the crime or the crime was the result of prolonged abuse and/or neglect of the child. If the minor was abused or coerced, the judge may recommend removal from the home, counseling, and reeducation instead of detention.

However, if the evidence suggests that the juvenile chose to offend and harm another person, the judge is more likely to send the offender to a detention center. Detention centers are not like jails or prisons in that they are places for rehabilitation and discipline rather than punishment.

If the offender intended to commit the crime but there is testimony or evidence proving severe mental health issues, the court may order behavioral therapy and medical treatment so the child can get the treatment they need.

If there are no risks for reoffending and no prior charges, the juvenile could be let go without the need for an adjudicatory hearing or detention.

When Juveniles are Charged as Adults

In rare cases, a juvenile offender may be charged as an adult and go through the criminal justice system. There are many factors that play into this decision. The judge looks for several indicators when deciding whether to send a juvenile offender to adult court and all of them are based on the ethos of the juvenile justice system. If there are no opportunities for rehabilitation, then the court has no choice but to turn the case over to the criminal justice system.

One of the key indicators for this decision is intent. Intent plays a significant role in all criminal cases, but in a juvenile trial, if the offender shows that they intended to cause harm and knew that their actions were wrong, they could be tried as an adult. In most of these cases, the court must prove that the child knew right from wrong and understood fully that their actions were bad and that they could face consequences.

Another indicator is scope. If the crime was especially violent, calculated, or fatal, the judge could send the offender to adult court. Essentially, what the court is looking for is that the crime was so violent that it is impossible to deny that the child’s intent was criminal. For example, if the offender stabs their guardian over 50 times, then it is reasonable to assume that they understood that what they were doing was a crime. Likewise, if the crime results in death or if it was planned over time, the offender is likely to go to adult court.

Defending Juvenile Cases

Juvenile cases are especially critical because they could either establish a pattern or criminal behavior and interaction with the system or lead to court intervention into a bad home environment. Those who are sent to detention centers or adult court face ostracization from their peers and society as a whole. A juvenile record can be sealed upon adulthood, but if the child is tried in adult court, they could lose future opportunities.

Defending these cases takes a lot of compassion and experience. At the Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A., we believe that those accused of a juvenile offense deserve a second chance which is why we work tirelessly to defend the rights of the accused.

Contact our firm for more information.

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