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What to expect when your juvenile teen gets charged with a crime

In Georgia, a young person who is charged with most crimes is treated as a juvenile if they are 16 years old and younger.  These juvenile criminal cases are referred to as juvenile delinquency cases.   Juvenile delinquency cases can track many different ways through our judicial system, but this article should serve as a guide for the typical path of a juvenile delinquency case.

Most juvenile delinquency cases begin when law enforcement decides to charge the juvenile.  Depending on the seriousness of that charge, and whether that juvenile has been in trouble before, the officer will either release the juvenile to his or her parents pending court, or arrest the juvenile and take him or her to the juvenile jail, which is known as the Youth Detention Center or YDC.

If the juvenile is taken to the YDC, then a detention hearing must be held before a judge within five business days.  The purpose of this hearing is for a judge to decide if the juvenile should remain at the YDC or be released while the case is ongoing.  There are a number of things the judge is to consider in making this decision, and it’s best to have an attorney to help make sure all the right information is presented.  If the juvenile remains in the YDC, the time frames on these cases move very quickly.

Often times, when a juvenile is not held in the YDC, parents and the juvenile are left with very little paperwork regarding what will happen next, which can create a sense of uneasiness.

If the juvenile is not held in the YDC, someone from the Department of Juvenile Justice will often contact the family to set up an intake conference.  The purpose of the conference is to gather some basic information regarding the juvenile and his family.  Facts of the juvenile’s pending case should not be discussed at this conference.

Whether or not an intake conference is held, the prosecutor, who is the attorney that works for the state, will prepare a document, which informs the juvenile and his parents of the formal charges that are being pursued.  These formal charges can be the same ones the juvenile was originally charged with, or they can be different, which means there could also be additional charges.

Once the formal paperwork is completed, it will be served upon the juvenile and his parents.  This service can come in the form of a registered or certified mailing, or by law enforcement or other court officials showing up at the home of the juvenile and the parents.  If law enforcement or other court officials serve the paperwork, they are only required to provide 72 hours notice before the juvenile and parents are required to be in court.  This is why it is important not to wait until receiving the court paperwork to get an attorney.

This initial court date is known as an arraignment.  This is a juvenile’s first opportunity to either admit or deny the charges, which is juvenile court’s way of saying plead guilty or not guilty. Often, a denial is entered at arraignment to allow everyone to investigate the case and decide how to move forward.  Again, time constraints can be tight and the case can be set for trial very quickly.

If a denial is entered, the case will generally be set for trial.  In juvenile court, a trial is before a judge and there is no jury.  At a juvenile trial, the judge decides whether a juvenile is guilty or not guilty of the offense.

The potential punishments in juvenile courts can be vast, and are ultimately decided by the judge, if the juvenile is found guilty or admits to the charges.  For the juvenile, these punishments can include incarceration, being placed on probation, ordered to complete community service work, counseling, and fines.  In more serious cases, the judge can order a juvenile be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.  The judge can also order a juvenile’s parents to complete tasks or ensure that the juvenile completes certain tasks.  If the parents fail to meet these court ordered requirements, then they can be jailed for contempt of court.

One significant difference between adult criminal cases and juvenile criminal cases is that there are many more options available for ways to resolve a juvenile case, which are not present in the adult criminal system.  When someone is going through the process of dealing with a juvenile delinquency case, it is important to have an attorney who understands the differences between juvenile court and adult criminal court, to ensure that the best outcome is obtained.