There are a lot of differences between juvenile and adult court. First of all, it’s confidential and private. The records are sealed. Second, it is technically not criminal court. Juvenile delinquency offenses are technically civil in nature and not criminal and that has ramifications later in their life. The emphasis is much more on helping the kids learn the error of their ways as opposed to punishment, and trying to give them and their parents’ resources to help address whatever problems led to the acts.
HOW DOES A COURT DETERMINE WHETHER TO DETAIN OR RELEASE AN ARRESTED JUVENILE?
The court will generally determine this issue depending on how much control the parents have over the juvenile. Juveniles are often released to their parents’ custody, probably most often, unless you have a runaway or someone who doesn’t stay with their parents; then they have to be detained. If the charges are serious enough, the juvenile would be detained.
DOES SOMEONE NEED TO POST A BOND FOR A MINOR TO BE RELEASED IN UTAH?
Jurisdiction of juvenile court ends after they are under 18, unless they’re in abuse & neglect proceedings; then the court can maintain jurisdiction until they’re 21. But no, you don’t usually have a bond unless a child’s been held and being charged as an adult. Again, you either are released to your parents or you’re detained; you generally don’t get bonds.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING AN ATTORNEY HANDLE A JUVENILE CASE?
It depends. Even though they are technically not criminal charges, for purposes of an attorney they are and you always have or can have free counsel for your child; I would always recommend that. The question really is more do you think it’s worth paying for private counsel for your child or using the public defender, and that depends on the level or seriousness of the offense. If it’s a serious offense, I would probably give that some serious consideration. The public defenders are pretty knowledgeable about the system and some are better than others, like anything else, but I think having legal advice when you’re making decisions is probably a good thing. One of the concerns that I always have in juvenile court is that the court kind of tends to take the position that the kids did whatever it is they’re charged with right from the get-go and they’ll have a probation officer there.
They’ll start talking about consequences and gloss over proving the fact that child actually committed the offense. So if you have a case where you believe the child is wrongfully accused, then I would definitely get counsel. If you know the kid really did egg the house and it’s really just a matter of dealing with some consequences and training, then you may not need private counsel.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS WHEN SOMEONE GENERALLY GOES THROUGH JUVENILE COURT?
You go into juvenile court under two different scenarios; you can go in under delinquency, which is where you’ve committed an act that would be a crime if an adult had committed it. When you go that way, you’ll usually receive something in the mail unless the child was actually arrested. But usually you’ll get a summons in the mail and they’ll give you notice of a hearing date. Then the child and the child’s legal guardians have to show up at the court hearing. They’ll meet with the prosecuting attorney, a probation officer, and others, and usually you’ll have meetings before the hearing. At the meeting you make some informal determinations about how you want to proceed. If you can’t agree on anything, then you’ll have a hearing. If you don’t agree to the charges, then they’ll schedule a trial.
The second way you come into juvenile court is for abuse and neglect proceedings and that’s for cases in which children have been either abused or neglected and it’s actually the parents that are being brought into juvenile court; the court’s job is to try and protect the children. Then the court will have a series of hearings and introduce evidence of the abuse or neglect. Case workers for DCFS, Division of Child and Family Services, will be involved and they’ll look at what actions the parents have or have not taken in order to protect these children from abuse and neglect. Then they’re mandated by law to try and rehabilitate the parents.
The parents have a finite period of time between 6 months to a year, depending on the age of the children, to get their act together. The court will have periodic reviews to see how the parents are doing with their plan. If eventually the parents do not get their act together, then the children are placed in a foster care and eventually that parent’s rights may be terminated; the children can be adopted out by foster parents or relatives or others. These are the two ways you end up in juvenile court.
WHAT GENERALLY HAPPENS IF A JUVENILE IS FOUND GUILTY OF A CRIME?
Of course it depends on the offense but there is a range of sanctions if a juvenile is found guilty of a crime. That’s why there is an adult court if it is a very serious offense. The child could be sent to detention. More often, they’ll probably be fined, ordered to do community service, and participate in certain amount of training, classes or therapy. They also can be ordered to make compensation or restitution and there’ll be a fair amount of follow-up on those orders, with review hearings.
CAN JUVENILE RECORDS BE SEALED OR EXPUNGED IN UTAH?
Juvenile records in Utah are already sealed. As a matter of fact, recently the law changes so that all family law records in Utah are private and the public cannot go in and look at any family law record. Juvenile records have long been privately sealed. So nobody can see juvenile court records other than law enforcement or DCFS or people involved in the system already. Therefore, nobody outside of the system itself is going to be able to go and find out if you or your child have a juvenile court record. Those records will be sealed. As far as expunging juvenile court records, I don’t know that there is a reason to because they’re sealed anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anybody trying to expunge a juvenile court record, but theoretically is may be possible.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON JUVENILE AND FAMILY LAW CASES IN UTAH?
It’s important that people remember that this area of the law is based on equity and so a lot of times, things are not black and white. Because of that, it’s important that you have an attorney that you feel confident with, and retain somebody who understands the law but also has a good working relationship with the people that you’re going to be involved with in your case. You want someone representing you who a judge respects and someone who is geared towards solving the problem and not just fighting. This is because litigation, while sometimes it may feel vindicating, usually is not and you really have to focus on addressing the problem, not just “winning at trial.” Sometimes you win and you still lose because you haven’t solved the problem. Then you spend a lot of money and do a lot of damage to your family relationships in the meantime. I had a friend tell me once that family law is the only area of law where the opposing parties have slept with each other. It makes for a very different dynamic and you have to be aware of that.
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