The criminal justice system is a pretty well-known process; however, when a person is under the age of majority (19 in Nebraska and 18 in most other states), it can be a whole new process for not only the minor, but also for the parent. There are a few aspects that can be expected from the juvenile court system.
Apprehending a minor
In certain instances, a minor may not be sent to the juvenile court system. Most states give the law enforcement officer a great deal of room to decide what to do with the arrested youth. The options generally include:
- Hold a minor in order to inform them about the consequences of the crime they committed before releasing them
- Hold a minor until the parent/guardian comes to release the minor
- Send them to a juvenile court officer
Determining whether the minor should go to juvenile court
If the case is sent to court it will be given to a juvenile court officer or prosecutor. They will then decide whether it is necessary to formally file charges, handle it “off the record”, or even dismiss it.
What age group gets sent to juvenile court?
Since a 5-year-old is substantially different from a 16 or 17-year old, they are generally treated differently when it comes to court. Here are the general categories based on age:
- Age seven or below – the minor rarely can be charged, but the parents could be held accountable
- Age 7-15 – the most common candidates for juvenile court
- Age 12-18 – generally tried in juvenile court, but are now being tried more often as adults when the crimes are serious enough
Handling it “off the record”
“Off the record” occurs when charges are not formally filed, but the minor is still required to be seen in front of either an officer or a judge. Since it is an informal judgement, there is no minimum for what will happen, but the minor usually receives a lecture. Additionally, if there is possible negligence or abuse the judge or officer may take steps to end this during this process.
Formal charges are filed
If formal charges do end up being filed, you can expect this process:
- Arraignment – the minor is charged formally
- Hearing – the court takes jurisdiction over the case, or there will be a “fitness” hearing to decide whether they should be tried as an adult
- Plea/Adjudication – the minors attorney will aid them in entering a plea, or deciding on whether they will go to trial
- Trial/Adjudication – a judge instead of a jury will generally hear the evidence and decide guilt
- Sentence/Disposition – if the minor is found guilty, then the judge will sentence the minor based on the charge
- Post-sentencing – the minor might be required to appear in front of the court regularly to track the progress