What Is Juvenile Law?

Published 01/04/2023

It’s safe to say the goals of America's juvenile justice system are to keep citizens safe and rehabilitate delinquent youth. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, policymakers are not always able to establish programs that achieve these goals.

While the current U.S. policy aims to balance public safety with the effective rehabilitation of youth, and courts seek to individualize recommendations to fit the situations of young offenders, one of the biggest problems cited within the juvenile justice system is that minors are often faced with punishment instead of rehabilitation, an outgrowth from political and cultural issues across the nation.

There is some good news, however. Juvenile crime rates do tend to fluctuate, but when compared to 1996, 2021 saw a 75% decrease in juvenile crime. When breaking down this number into different crime types, the figures look even more promising. Violent offenses - which include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, have seen the most significant drop since the mid-1990s.

What Is Juvenile Law?

Although most of the cases in the juvenile court system involve children and youth between the ages of 10 and 18, the upper age of eligibility is determined by the juvenile law of each state.

Many states try juvenile crime cases in juvenile court when the offender is younger than 18. However, a few states have younger cutoffs. Alternatively, in cases of status offenses (such as curfew violations), abuse, or dependency, many states extend jurisdiction through the age of 20.

In some states, a sentence obtained from a juvenile court cannot extend beyond the individual's 18th birthday.

How Are Juveniles Treated Differently Than Adults?

It’s not surprising that juveniles and adults are - in many cases - treated differently when it comes to their experience within the court system.

For starters, adults are typically prosecuted for “committing crimes,” whereas juveniles are prosecuted for committing “delinquent acts.” However, there are times - such as when there is extreme violence - when juveniles may be tried as an adult in the criminal court system.

Additionally, adults face a public trial and a jury while juveniles take part in an “adjudication hearing.” During these hearings, a judge - with no jury - hears all of the evidence and then makes a ruling as to whether the juvenile is delinquent. The rules of the juvenile court are less formal than adult court, with some protocols - such as those surrounding the admission of evidence - being much more lenient.

If the judge determines they are, the court decides what the next course of action shall be. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation and to do what is in the best interest of the individual. With this in mind, there are many alternative sentencing options, including probation, diversionary programs, and parole.

What Rights Do Juvenile Defendants Have?

Like adults, juveniles have many rights afforded to them as they navigate the justice system, including:

  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to cross-examine and confront the witnesses against you
  • The right to not incriminate yourself
  • The right to know the charges against you
  • The prosecution must prove the charges against you beyond a shadow of a doubt

If you have questions or would like any additional information, get in touch with an attorney at Bazar & Associates at (401) 437-4450 or contact us here.