A “juvenile” is a person who has not attained his eighteenth birthday, and “juvenile delinquency” is the violation of a law of the United States committed by a person prior to his eighteenth birthday which would have been a crime if committed by an adult. A person over eighteen but under twenty-one years of age is also accorded juvenile treatment if the act of juvenile delinquency occurred prior to his eighteenth birthday. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 5031

Juvenile Population

In 2010, there were 75.2 million Americans under age 18
In 2009 there were 859 murders by juvenile offenders, or 9% of all murders
On average, juveniles were involved in 1/4 of serious violent crimes

Below are the top reason for  arrests for2010 in California

  • Curfew violations: 36.8%
  • 10,153;
  • Truancy violations: 33.4%
  • 9,203;
  • Runaways: 14.0%
  •  3,872

Top Ten Causes of Violence in the Order that Children Cited them

  • The media
  • Substance abuse
  • Gangs
  • Unemployment
  • Weapons
  • Poverty
  • Peer pressure
  • Broken homes
  • Poor family environment/Bad neighborhoods
  • Intolerance/Ignorance

Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends

  • In 2009 there were 5804 arrests for every 100,000 youths aged 10-17 in the U.S.
  • The overall juvenile arrest rate was lower in 2009 than in 1980


Each state has its own procedural rules.  Using the example of Alabama:

  • The case begins with a complaint against the juvenile, filed in juvenile court.
  • The juvenile probation officer reviews the complaint and decides whether a formal complaint will be filed with the court. The officer notifies the child and the parents of their right to have an attorney present at all hearings.
  • The officer decides whether the child may be released to the parents or placed in juvenile custody.
  • Hearings must be held within 72 hours.
  • At this hearing the juvenile judge decides whether to release or detain the child.
  • Ultimately the case will go before the court if the case is not dismissed.
  • The child may be assigned to perform community service, be placed on probation or be required to pay restitution.
  • The child will be returned to his or her parents unless the court finds the child to be a serious juvenile offender.
  • If the child is classified as a serious juvenile offender, he or she may be required to spend a minimum of one year in a Dept. of Youth Services Facility.
  • At the end of one year a panel will review the case, either extending the time in the facility or releasing the child.
  • If the child is 14 or older and commits an act “that would constitute a felony if it were committed by an adult,” the district attorney may petition the juvenile court to transfer the case to adult court for criminal prosecution.
  • Once in adult court, juvenile court no longer has jurisdiction over the child.
  • The juvenile has 14 days to appeal the juvenile court’s decision.

Juvenile Rights

Juvenile cases are heard in state juvenile court. Cases are heard by the court, without a jury. Juveniles are afforded the same constitutional protections as adults:

  • To know the exact nature of the allegations
  • To be represented by a lawyer
  • The right to a speedy trial
  • The right to confront witnesses against him
  • The right to cross examine witnesses
  • To right to obtain witnesses or evidence
  • To introduce evidence on his own behalf
  • Cannot be forced to testify against himself
  • State must prove that the defendant committed the delinquent act charged against him beyond a reasonable doubt
  • The court can appoint an attorney on the juvenile’s behalf
  • The juvenile can waive his right to counsel if the waiver is joined by his parents or guardian
  • The court hears the case and the court decides the guilt or innocence of the juvenile

Risk Factors

There are signs that may give clues to a juvenile that may be at high risk of participating in illegal conduct.

  • Early aggressive behavior
  • Restlessness and concentration problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Association with antisocial peers
  • Participation in unstructured leisure activities

Families, schools and communities can add to the risk of juvenile delinquency.  Below are examples of conditions known to lead to this type of behavior.

  • Childhood maltreatment
  • Ineffective or dysfunctional parenting
  • Parental criminality
  • Truancy and dropping out of school
  • Exposure to community violence
  • Poverty

There are also factors that help protect young people from going down the wrong path including:

  • Strong feelings of accountability or perceived risk of punishment for misbehavior
  • Attachments to family or family support
  • Parental monitoring
  • Positive social activities
  • High academic achievement or school connectedness
  • Low neighborhood crime rate

As a parent, it may not be possible to give all of these to your child.  The important thing is to control what you can to give your children the best chance to avoid making mistakes that could put them in juvenile court.

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Michael S. Berg
Attorney At Law