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What is juvenile court?

Juvenile cases are handled differently than adult criminal cases. Instead of a criminal district or county court, juvenile cases are heard by a juvenile court judge. A juvenile court is designated to handle all juvenile delinquency cases. Most states will treat juvenile delinquency matters as civil matters or family law matters, rather than criminal matters under the state’s penal code for adults.

Juvenile Court Cases

A juvenile court may hear juvenile cases ranging from truancy to drug dependency issues. The parents or guardians of juveniles are usually required to appear and participate in the disposition of their child’s case. Disposition can include the parents or guardian being fined for not getting their child to school as required.

Most children are placed on a type of juvenile probation that is meant to help the child and the family. For example, if a child has turned to underage drinking in order to cope with the domestic violence between his parents or guardians, the juvenile court can order alcohol counseling for the child, and family counseling for the child and parents. If the juvenile has learning difficulties, some juvenile court programs have funding for formal homeschooling. The goal of most juvenile court programs is to rehabilitate a child before they become an adult and get into more trouble.

Juvenile Court Judges and Records

Even though juvenile court is more civil in nature, a juvenile court judge does have some criminal type “authority.” If a parent or juvenile refuses to appear for a setting, the juvenile court judge can issue a warrant or writ of attachment. The sheriff will then use this order to bring the juvenile or parent before the juvenile court. Once in juvenile court, if either the parent, guardian, or juvenile do not have a good explanation for their absence, the court can impose contempt sanctions like confinement or fines. If during the juvenile court program, a juvenile officer or judge believes that a juvenile is the victim of child abuse or neglect, they are required to report the child abuse to the state’s child protective service for an addition investigation.

To access most juvenile court records, a court order is generally required because they are civil matters involving juveniles. However, if a court makes certain findings during the course of a juvenile’s program, some records may be made public without a court order.

Getting Help

If you or your child is involved in juvenile court proceedings, you should consult with a juvenile attorney so that you understand the long-term consequences of their case in juvenile court. 

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