In many cases, juveniles—persons ages 17 and younger—who are arrested and charged with committing crimes, will be subject to proceedings in juvenile matters court, not criminal court. Juveniles charged with A and B level felonies will be subject to criminal court proceedings and juveniles charged with other felonies may have their cases proceed in either criminal or juvenile court.
Although juvenile delinquency matters are based in violations of criminal laws, the juvenile delinquency process is different from the criminal process. The juvenile process is intended to provide greater protections and care to young people charged with crimes, with the emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Unlike criminal cases, juvenile court proceedings and case information are not available to the public. Moreover, juveniles found liable of violating the law are not considered convicted but are adjudicated delinquent. An adjudication of delinquency does not count as a criminal conviction. While there will be a juvenile record following an adjudication, that record is sealed. Additionally, subject to certain requirements, individuals adjudicated as delinquent may petition the court for the erasure of the records.
Juveniles in delinquency matters do have some but not all of the rights guaranteed to adult criminal defendants.
Despite the protections of the juvenile court system, juvenile delinquency matters should not be taken lightly. There is the potential loss of liberty both before and after adjudication, including house arrest and detention. Juveniles are guaranteed the assistance of counsel in all critical stages of their proceedings and also have the right to court (but not jury) trials.
Due to the potentially serious nature of juvenile delinquency, juveniles and their parents should consult with attorneys.