There is nothing more intimidating than standing in a courtroom, especially if you are a minor. It should be noted that there are some major differences between a minor standing in front of a judge in a juvenile court, and an adult facing a jury of his or her peers.
Most are a result of the differences between the purpose and intended goals of the two systems.
The juvenile court system has as its intended goal to reform troubled youth, and help them become responsible and capable adults in the future.
The adult court system, on the other hand, protects the general public by punishing those that violate the law, either through monetary fines or incarceration.
Because of this one major contrast between the two court systems, there are several minor procedural differences that are easily explained.
Procedural Differences for Juvenile Court Cases
- First and foremost, minors are never prosecuted for violations of the law, unless those violations are deemed so serious as to constitute a minor being charged as an adult. Serious violations include such acts as assault, armed robbery, and murder. The majority of the time, minors are charged with delinquent behavior and prosecuted accordingly.
- Minors charged with delinquent behavior do not have the same rights as adults who are defending themselves against a criminal prosecution. One of the key rights they do not have is the right to a jury trial. Juvenile courts are always overseen by a judge, which would be similar to a bench trial in an adult courtroom. These are called adjudication hearings, at which time a judge will determine whether or not a juvenile has been delinquent.
- Since the intended purpose of juvenile courts is to rehabilitate minors and help them become responsible, law abiding adults, the penalty phase of a trial is very different. Minors are rarely required to serve time in a rehabilitation facility, instead the needs of the child are extremely important. They are usually allowed to stay at home with their parents and given some form of community service, not as a punishment but as a learning experience.
- Finally, juvenile courts do not play by as strict a set of rules as adult courts do. Evidence that may be presented does not need to pass a stringent test of admissibility. Hearsay evidence and the opinions of non-professionals or experts are often admitted. The reason is that the judge is trying to gain the clearest picture possible, not of the minor’s guilt but of how best to reform him or her.
With these things in mind, it can make an appearance in front of a juvenile court judge a little less intimidating. Remember that the goal is to rehabilitate the minor and give him or her a chance at a better future.