A juvenile crime is any crime that is committed by a child or minor (or, a juvenile) who is generally under the age of 18. However, the age requirement often varies by state. An example of this would be how in some states, the maximum age to be charged for a juvenile crime is 16 or 17. Additionally, most states consider a child who is aged 14 or older to have the capacity to intentionally commit a crime.
Children who are 7 years old or younger are generally considered to be incapable of intentionally committing a crime, because they are considered to be too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong. However, there is a possibility that a young child could be held liable for committing the crime of homicide.
There are many differences between the juvenile criminal justice system and the adult criminal justice system, namely that they are governed by separate laws and rules. However, there are some factors that may cause a juvenile to be tried and processed through the adult criminal system. This includes when a crime is particularly shocking or outrageous, or if the juvenile is a repeat offender.
An example of this would be how a juvenile may be tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft. As such, they can face harsher penalties, and will have a reduced chance to redeem themselves through an alternative form of punishment.
The juvenile court will also decide what the best punishment is for a minor. These consequences are intended to educate and rehabilitate the minor, as opposed to simply imposing a punishment on them such as what an adult would receive. Because of this, minors have a greater variety of alternative sentencing options than adults.
The type of punishment that the juvenile court may issue against a minor can range from an educational lecture to a certain time period of confinement, generally to be served in a juvenile detention facility. This is where the slang term “juvie” originates.
Some of the most common legal consequences for being convicted of committing a juvenile crime include:
- Detainment by the juvenile court system;
- Mandatory schooling;
- Community service;
- Probation or parole;
- Significant fines; and/or
- Depending on the minor’s age, the conviction could remain on their permanent record for life.
The following factors determine what penalties the juvenile defendant may receive:
- The type of crime that was committed;
- Whether a weapon was used during commission of the crime;
- The extent of injury or damage done by the crime;
- How their local community and court system reacts towards the crime in question;
- Whether the minor had any prior convictions making them a repeat offender;
- The circumstances of their home and family life;
- Whether the child has any mental health conditions; and
- Whether the minor was already currently on probation or parole for another crime.
What Are Disposition Hearings?
Disposition hearings are the portion of a juvenile criminal case in which the judge prescribes the appropriate sentence for the juvenile crime. To reiterate, criminal sentences for minors tend to focus more on alternative sentencing in comparison to the adult criminal system. Disposition hearings are equivalent to the “sentencing” part of an adult criminal trial, and are sometimes called “juvenile disposition hearings.”
Disposition hearings are generally the later portions of a juvenile criminal case. Just prior to the juvenile sentencing procedure, the court will hear disposition hearing arguments in which both sides present evidence either for or against the juvenile defendant. These arguments will help determine what sentences, if any, are appropriate for the juvenile crime that is being discussed.
Traditional jail sentences generally apply for juvenile offenses. However, many juvenile courts allow minors to undergo alternative sentencing options, such as:
- House arrest;
- Diversionary programs; or
- Community service in lieu of jail time. This allows the juvenile offender to remain functional in their communities, as well as avoid spending long periods of time in jail.
While alternative sentencing options may not be available for all juvenile offenders, they are common for first-time offenders, and for those being charged with less serious offenses such as common theft or trespassing.
What Is Determined During A Juvenile Disposition Hearing?
During a disposition hearing, the juvenile court will focus on several key factors in order to determine what the consequences of the offense will be. Generally speaking, there are three basic determinations that are made during the juvenile dispositional hearing:
- Whether the child is in serious need of rehabilitation or counseling;
- Whether protection is needed for the child or for the general public; and
- Whether the child may be placed on probation.
To reiterate, some factors that a juvenile court analyzes during dispositions include:
- The juvenile laws of that particular jurisdiction or state;
- The nature of the crime committed by the juvenile defendant;
- Any history of previous crimes; and
- Local public policy and social standards regarding juvenile sentencing measures.
If the juvenile is tried as an adult, many of these protections will not be available, as adult laws generally focus more on punishment and deterrence rather than rehabilitation.
At disposition hearings, the juvenile defendant and their attorney can present evidence which will help the judge to reach their decision. The victim can also present oral or written testimony at the disposition hearings. After hearing both sides, the judge will review all of the relevant arguments in order to reach the best solution for rehabilitating the minor. The judge will also consider the best way to correct the injuries or losses of the victim.
What Constitutional Rights Do Juvenile Defendants Have?
Despite the fact that juvenile cases are tried in civil rather than criminal court, as citizens of the United States, juveniles are still afforded the protections of constitutional criminal rights. This means that juveniles will have many of the same or similar rights that adult defendants have in the criminal justice system.
Some examples include:
- The Right to Counsel: In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that minors have a right to an attorney during a court proceeding. If a minor or their parents cannot afford an attorney, a state appointed attorney will be provided for them;
- Right to Notice of the Charges: A juvenile defendant has the right to know what charges are being brought against them;
- The Right to Make a Phone Call: If the minor is already in custody and it is possible that they will be held for quite some time, they will be allowed to make at least one phone call. They may call their parents or guardians, who can contact an attorney on their behalf. A juvenile also has the option of contacting an attorney themselves. If the police refuse their request to call a parent, guardian, or attorney, any statements that the minor makes to the police after the denial will be admissible in court. By requesting to speak with one of those parties, the minor is invoking their Miranda rights; and
- Right to Confront and Cross-Examine Witnesses: While juvenile cases are considered to be civil and not criminal matters, the minor will still have the right to cross-examine and question any witnesses who are providing testimony. They can challenge those witnesses through their attorney.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With A Juvenile Disposition Hearing?
You should hire an attorney if you need assistance with any type of juvenile criminal case. A qualified juvenile attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.