COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT JUVENILE COURTS



COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT JUVENILE COURTS

Every Alabama county has a juvenile court. Juvenile court jurisdiction may be exercised by the district or circuit court. Proceedings before the juvenile court judge and juvenile court records are confidential (not open to the public). There are no jury trials in juvenile court.

Juvenile courts exercise jurisdiction over children and, in some instances, minors and adults. Cases involving children heard before the juvenile court include allegations that a child is delinquent, dependent, or in need of supervision.

A delinquent is a child under the age of 18 who has committed an offense which, if the individual were an adult, would be considered a crime (see exceptions to juvenile court's jurisdiction). A dependent is a child who is orphaned, neglected, or abused and in need of care. Child in Need of Supervision (CHINS) is one who has committed an act which, if that child were an adult, would not be considered a crime but is in need of care or rehabilitation, such as one who is habitually truant, disobedient to parents, or is a runaway.

There are some cases which the juvenile court cannot hear even if the individual is under the age of 18. The juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over juveniles 16 years of age or older charged with traffic offenses, except for driving under the influence (DUI) cases, or juveniles 16 years of age or older charged with any of the following offenses, which, if they were committed by an adult, would be: (1) a capital offense; (2) a Class A felony; (3) a felony which has an element of the offense the use of a deadly weapon; (4) a felony which has an element the causing of death or serious physical injury; (5) a felony which involves the use of a dangerous instrument against certain officials or persons; and (6) trafficking in drugs.


HOW DOES A JUVENILE CASE BEGIN?
Any individual, including a law enforcement officer, parent, relative, or neighbor, who has knowledge that a juvenile has committed a delinquent act, is in need of supervision, or is dependent may file a complaint with the juvenile court.

 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A COMPLAINT IS FILED?
A juvenile intake (probation) officer reviews the complaint to ensure that it is sufficient and decides whether a formal petition will be filed with the court. The intake officer will also notify the parents of the child's whereabouts if the child is detained. The intake officer will advise the child and the parents of their rights, including the right to have an attorney present at all proceedings.

The intake officer then decides whether or not the child should be released to the custody of his or her parents or placed in a licensed juvenile detention facility or, in the case of dependency and CHINS cases, placed in the care of the Department of Human Resources under what is called "shelter care".

Parents or guardians of a child may be made parties in all juvenile court actions, which means that a parent or guardian may be required to pay attorney fees, fines, court costs, restitution and other costs and/or carry out certain activities which the court deems is in the best interest of the child, such as participating in counseling.

 

IF A CHILD IS DETAINED, WHEN WILL A HEARING BE HELD?
A hearing must be held within seventy-two (72) hours. At this hearing, the juvenile judge will determine whether the child should remain in detention or in shelter care or be released to the custody of his or her parents or guardians.

 

WHAT DOES THE TERM "INFORMAL ADJUSTMENT" MEAN?
If there is sufficient evidence to bring the child within the jurisdiction of the court, the intake officer may withhold the filing of a formal petition with the court and, with the consent of the child and parents or custodian, may attempt to make a satisfactory "informal adjustment". Under an informal adjustment, the juvenile and parents or custodian must consent to counseling by an intake officer, or other appropriate persons which can include the juvenile judge. The juvenile and parents or custodian may consent to the temporary placement of the juvenile with persons other than the parent or custodian for a period not to exceed six months.

The intake officer has the option of (1) terminating the informal adjustment process and dismissing the child without further proceedings; or (2) terminating the informal adjustment process and filing a petition in the court if the child or the parents or custodian declines to participate further in the process; if the child fails to attend scheduled conferences; or if the intake officer is apprised of additional information which makes it appear that further efforts at informal adjustment would not be in the best interest of the juvenile or society

 

WHAT IS A CONSENT DECREE?
At any time after the filing of a petition in a delinquency or child in need of supervision case, and before the entry of an order adjudicating the child delinquent or a CHINS, the juvenile court may suspend proceedings and allow the child, to be supervised under certain conditions known as a consent decree. The consent decree is an agreement between the juvenile, the parents or custodian, and the judge which may be entered into after the child and parents (or custodians) have been advised of their rights. The proceedings of the court are suspended, and the juvenile is placed on probation for a period of six months under terms and conditions agreed upon by all parties.

If the juvenile fails to abide by the terms and conditions of the consent decree, the petition will be reinstated and the case will proceed to adjudication.

If a consent decree is not entered into by all the parties, including the child, the juvenile case will be set for an adjudicatory hearing.

 

WHAT HAPPENS AT A JUVENILE TRIAL? 
All juvenile proceedings are closed to the public and adjudicatory hearings are heard by a judge without a jury. Present at the hearing will be the judge; the juvenile; the juvenile's defense attorney; the juvenile's parents, guardian, or custodian; the district attorney who will represent the state; the victims of the offense with which the juvenile is charged; the juvenile probation officer; in dependency cases, a representative of the Department of Human Resources; and any other party approved by the juvenile court judge.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IN DELINQUENCY AND CHINS CASES?
At the beginning of the hearing, the juvenile judge will ask whether counsel for the juvenile and parents or custodian have explained the contents of the petition alleging the offense(s) with which the juvenile is charged, what to expect from the adjudicatory hearing, and the rights of the parties.

The judge will ask the juvenile whether he or she admits or denies all or some of the allegations in the petition. An admission of the allegations is similar to a plea of "guilty" and a denial is similar to a plea of "not guilty."

If the juvenile denies allegations of the petition, the hearing will continue and the testimony of witnesses will be taken. At the close of the hearing the judge will find that either:

     - the facts in the petition are true and the child is delinquent or in need of supervision,

or

     -  the facts are not true and the petition will be dismissed.

 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE JUVENILE HAS BEEN FOUND TO BE DELINQUENT OR IN NEED OF SUPERVISION?
The court will hold what is called a "disposition hearing." In delinquency and in need of supervision cases, the court may require the juvenile to perform community service, place the juvenile on probation, and/or require the juvenile to pay restitution. The juvenile may also be committed to the Department of Youth Services. After evaluating the juvenile, the Department will establish an individual service plan which must be completed before the juvenile is released. An order of disposition or other adjudication shall not be considered a conviction.

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE COURT FINDS THE CHILD TO BE A "SERIOUS  JUVENILE OFFENDER"?
The judge may find a child to be a "serious juvenile offender" if the child has been adjudicated a delinquent and the delinquent acts(s) if committed by an adult, would constitute a Class A felony, a felony resulting in a serious physical injury, a felony involving physical force, a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument.

A "serious juvenile offender" is required to spend a minimum of one year in a Department of Youth Services facility. A review panel will review the juvenile's progress quarterly and may, at the end of the one year term, extend the term of commitment at the facility, order alternative treatment, or release the child.

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD IS DETERMINED TO BE A "MULTIPLE NEEDS CHILD?"
Sometimes a juvenile court will receive information that a child is at risk of being placed in a more restrictive environment because of a behavioral disorder, educational deficit, emotional disturbance, mental retardation, an addiction to alcohol or drugs, physical illness, or some other disability which hampers the child in functioning normally and which requires the services of two or more agencies, such as the Department of Youth Services, Department of Human Resources, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, or special education.

In these cases, the juvenile judge will refer the child to the "County Children's Services Facilitation Team," who will evaluate the child and determine which services the child needs. Once this preliminary evaluation is completed and it is determined that the child needs the services of two or more agencies, the court may adjudge the child a "Multiple Needs Child" and refer the child back to the Team for a " final service plan," outlining the services to be provided in the best interests of the child.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IN DEPENDENCY CASES?
All incidents of suspected child abuse and neglect and other cases of dependency should be reported to the Department of Human Resources which investigates the reports. If necessary, legal action will be taken to protect the child.

 

WHAT ACTION MAY BE TAKEN TO PROTECT THE CHILD?
The Department of Human Resources may remove the child from the family and assume temporary custody.

Within seventy-two (72) hours of the pick-up, a petition must be filed with the court and a shelter care hearing will be held to determine the disposition which should be made of the child's pending trial of the case. Custody may remain with the Department of Human Resources and the child may be transferred to a shelter home, or he or she may be released to the parents or another custodian.

A dependency hearing or trial will be held to determine if the child's custody should be returned to the parents. If the court determines that the child should not be returned to the parents, the child may be made a ward of the state and placed in foster care.

In all dependency cases where the custody of the child is placed with the Department of Human Resources or other foster care, hearings will be held periodically to review the custody issue. The objective is to achieve a permanent placement for the child as soon as possible. This may include terminating parental rights and putting the child up for adoption.

 

WHEN ARE JUVENILE CASES TRANSFERRED TO THE CRIMINAL COURT?
When a juvenile 14 years of age or older commits an act which would constitute a felony if it were committed by an adult, the district attorney may petition the juvenile court to transfer the youth to the adult court for criminal prosecution. If, after hearing all the evidence, the juvenile court finds that there is probable cause for believing that the allegations against the youth are true, the court may grant a motion to transfer the case to criminal court.

Alabama law provides that once a juvenile is transferred to adult court for criminal prosecution and convicted in the adult court, the juvenile court's jurisdiction over the child with respect to any pending or subsequent delinquent acts is terminated. In other words "once transferred and convicted, always transferred.

 

DOES A JUVENILE HAVE A RIGHT TO AN APPEAL?  
Yes. Any aggrieved party may appeal a decision of the juvenile court. A notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the juvenile court within 14 days from the date of judgment.
 

Questions most frequently asked about juveniles and juvenile court are answered in this pamphlet. If you have other questions, contact the juvenile intake (probation) officer in your county.