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Juvenile Law and Justice

Juvenile Or Adult?

In a growing number of cases, a juvenile may be prosecuted as an adult. A "waiver" or "transfer" to adult court means that the juvenile may be prosecuted and sentenced under the same rules that govern adult criminal trials. Transfer to adult court is governed by statute and occurs only when the juvenile stands accused of a serious felony or violent crime. A conviction in adult court can result in a sentence equivalent to that received by an adult. For first-degree murder, this can even mean death. Capital punishment cannot, however, be imposed on a juvenile who was less than 16 years old at the time of the offense.

When a juvenile commits a status offense, the law's response is somewhat different than its response to a criminal act. A police officer coming in contact with a juvenile status offender may simply give the juvenile a warning, but repeated offenses may lead to an adjudication of delinquency.

Juvenile courts also exercise authority over children who are in need of social services. This includes juveniles whose parents are unable to care for them and children who are abused or neglected. A number of low-level status offenses may cause a juvenile court to treat the juvenile as a child in need of services, and order the juvenile to live in a foster home or state reformatory.

Most juvenile courts have a building or room of their own. A juvenile court is separate from adult courtrooms and is arranged or conducted in a way that is less intimidating than the arrangements in adult courtrooms. In most states, the proceedings take place in private and the records and identities of juveniles likewise are kept private. Some states, like Wisconsin, are allowing the public increased access to juvenile records and proceedings.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesJuvenile Law and Justice - Juvenile Courts, The "system", Juvenile Or Adult?, Juvenile Law, Further Readings