The juvenile justice system operates differently than the adult criminal justice system. When an adult is accused of a crime, he or she is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the offense. The penalties for a conviction are defined in statutes, and usually include jail time and fines, or one or the other.
When a juvenile commits acts that violate a law, instead of being charged with a crime, typically what happens is that a petition for delinquency is filed. The delinquency process in many ways functions similarly to the adult criminal process. The juvenile goes through a process of either admitting or denying the offense, and there is a phase in which evidence and testimony is presented as to the juvenile’s guilt or innocence of the offense.
The juvenile has the same kinds of rights as an adult criminal defendant going through a trial, including the right to an attorney. However, juvenile trials are more informal and guilt or innocence is decided by a judge, rather than a jury. If the juvenile admits to the offense or is found to have committed the offense, then the court moves toward a disposition of the case, which is similar to a sentencing.
In theory, the purpose of sentencing is to rehabilitate the Juvenile rather than punish. This is based on the recognition that juveniles lack the same maturity as adults, and should be allowed the chance to learn from their mistakes and grow into responsible adults.
Accordingly, Judges in the juvenile system have more discretion than their counterparts in adult criminal courts, and there are many more opportunities for alternatives and diversion programs for juveniles who commit offenses.
However, when offenses are very serious, juveniles still may face potentially harsh penalties — and in some instances may be tried and sentenced as adults.
Juveniles who encounter the system often are anxious, scared, and distrustful of the process. They often believe that no one will listen to them or hear their side of the story. A good St. Louis juvenile defense lawyer can be an incredibly important advocate on behalf of a juvenile to make sure that the juvenile does have a voice and that what he or she wants and needs is heard as part of the process.
At The Law Offices of Brian J. Cooke, we’re committed to making sure that juveniles facing delinquency proceedings in St. Louis and the surrounding areas get the same due process as any adult would expect in a courtroom, and that juveniles’ rights — and futures — are protected. When we represent a juvenile, we look out for the juvenile’s best interests and fight to make sure the juvenile gets the best possible outcome that allows the juvenile to move past youthful mistakes and build a productive life going into adulthood.