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Jun 15, 2024

Juvenile Justice System: How it Differs from Adult Criminal Law

Perhaps you have heard parents and teachers make threats about how kids who do not.

Juvenile Justice System: How it Differs from Adult Criminal Law

Perhaps you have heard parents and teachers make threats about how kids who do not listen to adults or who do not take their studies seriously will become juvenile delinquents and end up in juvenile detention. You probably never thought much about what this means, though; it was just an empty threat. The juvenile justice system makes decisions about incidents where minors are accused of breaking the law; it resembles the criminal court system in some ways, but it has its own objectives and its own way of operating. 

In Arizona, if you are under 18, and you get accused of an illegal action such as stealing, vandalism, drug possession, or underage drinking, you go to juvenile court instead of criminal court. The juvenile justice system is less punitive than the adult criminal justice system. The goal is to help young people address underlying problems that are contributing to their law-breaking behavior and to provide support that will enable them to be economically productive and have wholesome interpersonal relationships. 

Even though an adjudication in juvenile court will not give you a permanent criminal record, it does place you at a higher risk of future run-ins with the law. Therefore, it is best to proclaim your innocence, even though what is happening in juvenile court does not count as a real criminal case. If you are a teen being accused of delinquent activity in juvenile court, or if you are the parent of a minor facing such allegations, contact an Arizona criminal lawyer.

What You Need to Know About the Juvenile Justice System

You Have the Same Rights in a Legal Case, Regardless of Your Age

It only makes sense to have a separate justice system for minors. Since minors do not have the same rights as adults, such as the right to hold full-time employment or to vote, it follows that they should not be subject to the same harsh punishments that await adults who break the law. Furthermore, anyone who has lived through adolescence and reached adulthood knows that part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them.

Despite this, Arizona law affords minors who are accused of delinquency in juvenile court the same rights that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights give to adult defendants in criminal cases. For example, minors have the right to representation by a professional attorney in juvenile court. Youth whose families cannot afford to hire lawyers can request representation by a public defender.  Juvenile defendants also have the right to remain silent and to avoid self-incrimination; the state may not coerce minors into confessing to acts of delinquency. Even though juvenile cases do not involve a public trial with a jury, since juvenile delinquency is not punishable by imprisonment, you still have the right to summon witnesses at your trial and to have your lawyer cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

Juvenile Court Uses its Own Terminology

One of the most disorienting things about juvenile court is that it uses a different set of terms to refer to concepts analogous to those found in the adult criminal justice system. These are some examples:

  • An illegal action by an adult is called a crime, but if a minor engages in the same action, it is called an act of delinquency.
  • At an adult criminal trial, a jury decides whether the defendant is “guilty” or “not guilty,” whereas in juvenile court, the judge decides whether the teen “did commit” or “did not commit” the act of delinquency.

When an adult criminal court records a guilty verdict, it is called a conviction, but when a juvenile court records that a minor did commit an act of delinquency, it is called an adjudication.  A conviction record lasts forever unless the defendant is able to get it expunged years later, but an adjudication record disappears when the minor reaches adulthood.

When Can Minors Face Charges in Adult Criminal Court?

The juvenile justice system handles cases where youth between the ages of eight and 17 are accused of breaking the law. In some cases, the court may decide to charge a minor in adult criminal court; if this happens, then the same sentencing guidelines apply as they would if the defendant were a legal adult. The deciding factor in whether a teen gets charged as an adult is the severity of the offense, not the teen’s age; a 17-year-old accused of shoplifting will still go to juvenile court. Accusations of violent crimes such as armed robbery or sexual assault are the ones that lead to adult criminal charges for teens.

Contact Singular Law Group About Criminal Defense Cases

A criminal defense lawyer can help you get the best possible outcome in juvenile court. Contact Singular Law Group PLLC in Tempe, Arizona to set up a consultation.

Juvenile Law (azcourts.gov)

A Tempe criminal defense lawyer will help your teen fight accusations of delinquency in juvenile court.

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