Stages of Juvenile Court Proceedings
- When police arrest a minor and hold him in custody, they can decide to release him or place him in juvenile detention. Police can give the minor a Notice to Appear and require him to meet with an officer at the local probation department. The probation officer can decide to do nothing; require the minor to participate in community service or counseling to avoid juvenile court involvement; or file a petition with the juvenile court regarding minor offenses, such as truancy. The probation office can also send the case to the district attorney's office.
- After the district attorney's office has received information about the minor's arrest, a prosecutor will decide whether to file a petition, which opens a case with the juvenile court. When the district attorney's office has filed a petition, the minor must participate in a detention hearing at the juvenile court. During the detention hearing, the judge can decide whether the state will detain the minor at a juvenile residential facility, release the minor to a parent or guardian with restrictions or require electronic monitoring.
- Before the trial or hearing to determine a case verdict, the juvenile court may need to decide pre-trial issues. The juvenile court holds a readiness hearing, which is the minor's first appearance in court, during which the prosecution and defense can make initial motions and the minor can enter a plea. If the prosecutor asks for a fitness hearing, the court decides whether to keep the case in juvenile court or move the case to criminal court to try the minor as an adult defendant. Prosecutors are more likely to initiate fitness hearings for violent crimes or homicides.
- At the minor's scheduled trial, the prosecuting attorney and the minor's defense attorney, if she has obtained representation, present evidence and argue both sides of the case. The prosecutor must show the minor's "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Rather than make a finding of guilty or not guilty, the juvenile court judge decides whether to make a "true finding" on the case. "True finding" has the legal effect of a guilty verdict.
- The judge does not always determine a minor's punishment on the same day as the trial. If the minor receives a true finding verdict, the court can schedule a separate hearing to determine consequences on a future date. During a dispositional hearing, the judge issues court orders regarding the minor's probation and other requirements. The probation officer on the case recommends a course of action depending on the minor's prior criminal history, school records, parental statements and other information. The judge can place the minor on probation under the supervision of his parents or require him to stay in a residential rehabilitation facility for minors. If the minor violates his probation terms, he will need to return for additional court proceedings.