2 minute read

Juvenile Status Offenders

Historical Antecedents, The Breadth Of Proscribed Behaviors, Separation Of Noncriminal Conduct From Delinquent Conduct, Constraints On Judicial Powers

One definition of a juvenile status offense is conduct "illegal only for children." A second is noncriminal misbehavior. Juvenile status offenders are youths of juvenile court age who violate laws that define how young people should behave. These misbehaviors are unlawful for children, but not unlawful for adults. It is the status of childhood that allows children to be the subject of a status offense.

Status offenders are habitual truants from school, runaways, or those considered incorrigible or beyond the control of their parents. They can be brought before a juvenile or family court judicial officer since state laws have proscribed these misbehaviors. Adults who drop out of college, drop out of society, or regularly flout their parents' rules or desires cannot be brought before a court. Laws do not ban such adult activities or allow for court sanctioning.

Juvenile status offenses also include the violation of a curfew hour that applies only to young people under a certain age. Their presence in a public setting after a certain hour, except when the activity is expressly permitted by a curfew law, subjects them to sanctioning. Another status offense is tobacco use or possession. Adults may smoke, juveniles may not. Alcohol possession or use is a status offense, as well, though this offense requires a partial redefinition. This ban applies to youths above juvenile court age and who are under twenty-one years of age. Adults may drink alcohol; young people under twenty-one may not.

Juvenile status offenders are distinguished from juvenile delinquent offenders. Status offenders have not committed an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult; delinquent youths have committed such an act. A theft or robbery by a juvenile is a violation of a criminal statute that applies to juveniles and adults. A juvenile violator is classified as a juvenile delinquent offender. An adult violator is classified as a criminal offender. A theft or robbery is a law violation, not a status offense.

A final status offense is gun possession by a minor. Adults may generally possess guns; juveniles may not. However, the use of a gun in the commission of a crime is an offense that applies to juveniles and adults.

Juvenile status offenses are distinguished from the child abuse, neglect, and dependency jurisdiction of a juvenile or family court. This type of matter requires judicial system protection for children receiving harmful care.

In 1997, status offenses constituted 13 percent of juvenile court case filings nationally, compared with 68 percent for delinquency filings, 15 percent for child-victim filings, and 4 percent for other filings.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law