Juvenile Court is the place where persons under 17 years of age are prosecuted for criminal charges that are brought against them pursuant to the Illinois criminal code. A juvenile may be charged with a crime for almost any kind of conduct that would also be a crime if committed by an adult. This includes the whole array of misdemeanor and felony-level offenses.
There are certain offenses that may be charged against juvenile offenders that do not require an appearance in juvenile court. These types of offenses are not initiated under the Illinois criminal code. Instead, generally they consist of petty type offenses, violations of city or village ordinance, or traffic violations that do not carry a possible sentence of incarceration. Frequently this lesser degree of charges is handled outside of juvenile court and in the branch courts.
Not every situation where a juvenile has been charged with a criminal offense guarantees that the case will be handled in juvenile court. Fortunately, the law affords a certain amount of discretion to police and probation officers to attempt to divert less serious cases from formal prosecution.
If a child has been arrested, the police will decide whether to hold the child for transfer to a juvenile detention facility, or to release the child to his or her guardian or parents. If the police release the minor, nonetheless they may request that the minor participates in a “station adjustment.” A station adjustment may require the minor to agree to complete community service, attend school, avoid contact with certain people, refrain from alcohol and drug use, and abide by a curfew.
Like the police, the probation department of juvenile court also is authorized to handle juvenile charges informally. After a minor has been released from police custody, the minor and his parents or guardian may be invited to participate in a “preliminary conference” with a juvenile probation officer. At the preliminary conference, the probation officer will determine whether a “probation adjustment,” instead of formal courtroom prosecution, would be an appropriate way do address the issues in the child’s case.
Minor children (people under the age 17) generally wind up in juvenile court for one of two reasons: either they have been arrested and brought directly to juvenile court by the police, or they have been arrested and then released, and on some future date the child and his or her parents have received notice from the State’s Attorney’s Office that they must appear in court to answer formal charges.
In either case, prosecutions against juvenile offenders are formally commenced by the filing of a "Petition for Adjudication of Wardship." This Petition includes the names of the minor child and his or her parents or guardian, and also spells out the allegations of criminal conduct.
At the minor’s first court appearance, the juvenile court judge will advise the parties of the charges, the maximum possible penalties, and of the parties’ rights in the proceedings. If the child is in custody at this time, the court also will determine if the child should remain in custody pending future court dates. Unlike in an adult case, if a child is held in custody, there is no amount of bond money that can be posted to secure the child’s release.
Just as in adult criminal court, in juvenile court there is a wide range of possible consequences in any given case. Allowable dispositions range from a continuance under court supervision, to probation, to a sentence to the juvenile department of corrections up until the minor’s 21st birthday. A child has all the same due process rights as an adult. This includes the right to be presumed innocent of the charges against him or her, and the right to force the prosecution to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
Much effort in juvenile court is spent trying to help young people identify the causes of their delinquent behavior. Although the courts will not hesitate to dole out harsh punishments to serious or repeat offenders, a fundamental goal of the juvenile court justice system is rehabilitation. Programs and treatment may be implemented to assist a minor in grappling with any array of issues. Such programs include alcohol and substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, mentoring programs, family counseling, and inpatient and outpatient treatment.
The attorney who represents your child in juvenile court must protect your child’s interests in many ways. Perhaps the most basic interests that must be protected is your child’s right to fair proceedings, to due process, and to all the Constitutional protections of criminal law. A juvenile case, after all, is a prosecution brought against your child.
Prosecutions are based on allegations of criminal conduct, and ultimately must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, a child is entitled to and must receive the same quality of criminal defense advocacy as would be demanded by any adult. Not only must your child’s attorney defend his or her case, but that attorney must also constantly look out for your child’s best interest. Frequently this means working with parents, treatment providers, and court personnel to identify and implement appropriate support mechanisms in working toward the best possible resolution of your child’s case.
Generally speaking, there is no legal requirement that a child’s parent or guardian is present when the police conduct a custodial interrogation of the child. However, upon arresting a child, the police must make a “reasonable attempt” to notify that child’s parents or guardian that the child has been arrested and where the child is being held.
In certain situations where the police arrest a child, then interrogate the child about a criminal offense, but before doing so make no effort to notify the child’s parent or guardian that the child had been taken into custody, a challenge may be raised to the legality of the taking of the child’s statement.
In passing on whether to admit (allow) or suppress (deny) the prosecution from using the child’s statement at trial, the courts will consider the following factors: the manner in which the interrogation was conducted, the age and intelligence of the child, whether any threats or coercion were used to elicit the child’s statement, whether the child had prior contacts and experience in dealing with law enforcement, and whether the child’s parents or guardian were available at the time the statement was made.
In 2005, in Illinois a law became effective that requires that during the custodial questioning of a child who was under 13 years of age when certain crimes were committed, an attorney is present to represent the child. These crimes include first and second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and serious offenses of a sexual nature. Also in 2005, Illinois made it a requirement that police make and preserve an “electronic recording” of any custodial interrogation of a child who was under the age of 17 when the following crimes allegedly were committed: first or second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, or vehicular homicide.
There are several situations in which a child can be locked up. The first situation arises when a minor has been arrested by the police. If the police desire that the minor remains in custody, they must deliver the minor to a juvenile detention facility. The minor is required to be brought before a judge within 40 hours of his or her arrest, so that the court can make a formal determination as to whether the minor should continue to be held.
At this initial hearing, called a “detention hearing,” if the court finds that there is probable cause that an offense has been committed, and that it is a matter of “immediate and urgent necessity,” the minor can be detained pending trial on the charges. However, there are limits on how long a minor can be held in secure detention awaiting trial, and the basic limit is 30 days.
“Secure Detention” is where children are housed pending resolution of their cases. Typically the detention facility is connected to the juvenile courthouse. Long term housing of juvenile inmates occurs in the Juvenile Department of Corrections, renamed the “Department of Juvenile Justice” in the summer of 2006. A minor will go to the Juvenile Department of Corrections only if sentenced there by a judge. Once incarcerated there, the minor’s stay is for an indeterminate period of time which can last until his or her 21st birthday.
If a person is under the age of 17 when he or she allegedly commits a criminal act, any formal prosecution of that person will occur in Illinois Juvenile Court. There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule. These exceptions include cases of “excluded jurisdiction,” and cases where the prosecution successfully pursues the mandatory, presumptive, or discretionary transfer of a juvenile prosecution to adult court.
Situations where a child cannot be prosecuted in juvenile court and must be prosecuted in adult court (excluded jurisdiction) arise when a child is at least 15 years old and is charged with first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated battery with a firearm, armed robbery with a firearm, and aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm. The State may also seek the mandatory, presumptive, or discretionary transfer to adult court of certain of the most serious charges initiated in juvenile court upon filing a petition requesting the court to do so.
The overwhelming majority of criminal charges that are initiated against children in juvenile court, however, remain in juvenile court.
Juvenile court proceedings are confidential and are not open to the public. In fact, the only people who may be present in the courtroom when a juvenile case is heard are the parties necessary to the proceedings. These include the minor charged, his or her parents or guardian, his or her attorney, the prosecutor, a representative from the probation department, and the presiding judge. Juvenile court records also are confidential and may not be accessed by the public, even after a juvenile becomes an adult. Additionally, a formal disposition of guilty on a juvenile case is called an “adjudication of delinquency” and is not deemed to be a conviction for a criminal offense.
If your child is charged with an offense in juvenile court, contact this office at (847) 587-5000 for a free inital office consultation to discuss your child's case.
Attorney Matt Hoffman is a former Lake County Assitant State's Attorney who spent nearly two years prosecuting juvenile matters at the Richard W. Depke Juvenile Justice Complex in Vernon Hills, Illinois. At the conclusion of his tenure in the Juvenile Trial Division at the State's Attorney's Office, he was awared the Juvenile Justice Award. He is specifically qualified to defend any charges and allegations of juvenile delinquency brought against your child.