Police Contact with Juveniles
The police do not have to have parental consent or permission to talk to a juvenile. A juvenile is supposed to invoke his rights to remain silent and to request his/her attorney just as an adult would for the Constitutional protections to apply. Often times the police will contact kids at school so that there are no parents which could potentially intervene in the contact. In these contacts the officers will use there authority to coerce the kid into a confession.
Not every person under 18 who commits an offense ends up in juvenile court. A police officer may detain and warn a minor and then release to the custody of a parent/guardian or place the minor in custody and refer the case to a juvenile court. In juvenile court a minor is entitled to a lawyer at all stages of the case. Whether you admit guilt or are found guilty after a juvenile trial, the findings made in juvenile court are not considered convictions. That doesn't mean you won't be punished for the crime, but the punishment is often less severe and you won't have a criminal record. This is meant to give a young person a chance to straighten out without the stigma of a criminal record. Juvenile Court is very different than adult court.
Juvenile Court Process
Juvenile courts have their own special rules and procedures. For example, there are no jury trials in juvenile court and juveniles may not be released on bail. In cases involving a serious felony or violence, the court may decide to send the juvenile to adult court and try him as an adult. The decision to try the juvenile as an adult is left up to the judge and the prosecutor. The intent of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation as opposed to punishment in an effort to make the juvenile a well-adjusted and productive member of society. Juvenile court is generally lenient on first-time offenders as long as it is not a serious charge. The punishment for non-serious charges for first-time offenders is generally a fine and some community service.
Juvenile Criminal Charges
If the police refer a case to the juvenile court, a prosecutor or a juvenile court "intake" officer (often a probation officer) must then decide whether to dismiss the matter, handle the matter informally, or "petition" the matter by filing formal charges. In some localities, the probation officer makes only a preliminary assessment of whether to file formal charges, and leaves the final decision to a prosecutor. In deciding to charge formally the officer looks at the severity of the offense, offender's age, past record, strength of the evidence, social history, parent's or guardian's ability to control the minor, minor's attitude, family or community support, and if the minor has an attorney.
A decision to proceed informally often means that the minor must appear before a probation officer or a judge. The minor may receive a stern lecture, and may also be required to attend counseling sessions or after-school classes, repay the victim for damaged property or pay a fine, perform community service work, or go on probation.
If the intake officer decides to proceed formally, the officer files a petition and the case is placed on the juvenile court's calendar. The minor is arraigned (formally charged) before a juvenile court judge or referee. At this point, the juvenile court either takes jurisdiction of the case or, if the crime or the juvenile's personal characteristics indicate that the case should be handled in regular court, the judge sets the case for a "fitness hearing." At the hearing, the judge will determine whether the minor should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult in regular court. If the case remains in juvenile court, the minor either enters into a plea agreement or faces trial (often called an "adjudication"). If, after trial, the juvenile court judge "sustains the petition" (concludes that the charges are true), the judge decides on an appropriate sentence (usually referred to as a disposition).
Sealing Juvenile Records
Juvenile delinquency adjudications are NOT criminal convictions, therefore, if you are ever asked if you were convicted of a crime, you can truthfully and lawfully answer "No". Unfortunately, if you have committed a juvenile crime, you have a juvenile record. Unless your record is sealed, your criminal history is there for people to see which can affect your ability to get a job, go to the college, or even apply for graduate, medical or law school. Juvenile records are not sealed automatically. A petition must be filed with the court and a hearing held to determine if the records can be sealed. Once these records are sealed, any records held by the police, the court, the district attorney, and the probation department will be destroyed after five years. Sealing your juvenile record allows you to start adulthood on a "clean slate".
What Happens When Your JV Records are Sealed
These proceedings will be treated as if they never occurred. Certain juvenile records are not sealable. These include the more serious crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, certain gun charges, car jacking and all violent felonies.