A juvenile court is a specialized civil court dealing with children under the age of 18 who are abused, neglected, dependent, delinquent, or status offenders. Some juvenile courts also have the power to require treatment for mentally ill or developmentally disabled children. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the juvenile.
The juvenile court makes use of social service programs. There are important differences between juvenile courts and other civil courts. Juvenile hearings are usually closed to the public so that the juvenile's privacy is protected. A juvenile has no right to request a trial by jury. Juveniles cannot post bail in order to be released from detention. The probation officers involved in the juvenile justice system are court employees. They conduct evaluations and prepare reports to aid the juvenile judges in deciding a case. They also supervise juveniles who are placed on probation and report on the progress of juveniles on probation.
Abused, Neglected and Dependent Children
An abused child has suffered physical harm, severe emotional harm, or sexual abuse. A neglected child is one who has not been receiving proper care or who has been abandoned. A dependent child has no parent or custodian capable of providing care and supervision. Children in this third category are sometimes referred to as children in need of services or children in need of assistance.
A delinquent is a juvenile who has violated a criminal law. States have adopted laws allowing juveniles to be transferred to adult courts for trial. In Utah, for example, a juvenile who is 14 or older and charged with a felony or serious offense may have his prosecution transferred to adult court.
Juvenile courts also handle status offenders--children who run away, are regularly truant from school, or who cannot be controlled by their parents.
Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the juvenile court to watch out for the best interests of the child in legal proceedings involving abused, neglected, and dependent children.
Remedies Available in Juvenile Court
A juvenile court has the power to terminate parental rights in the case of abused, neglected, or dependent children. A child can also be placed in a foster home, a group home, or a special treatment facility. Delinquent children can be ordered to pay fines or make restitution (pay the victim back) for any damage done by the delinquent. Community service, house arrest, probation, drug or alcohol treatment, or detention are also remedies available in the juvenile court.
Juvenile Court Records
Generally, court records dealing with juvenile legal proceedings are public records if the juvenile is 14 years of age or older and the offense is a felony. Probation officers' records, psychological evaluations, and treatment reports are open if the judge agrees to release the records. The juvenile court does not automatically expunge or seal juvenile records. Many states allow a juvenile to have his or her records sealed if the offense was minor and the juvenile does not have any other offenses. If the juvenile has an adult criminal record, the juvenile court record will not be expunged.
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