Kansas City Juvenile Delinquency

Kids get into trouble.  Sometimes the problem is easily resolved at home, but other times, the government will step in to address it.  If this happens, Missouri has a specialized system for holding kids accountable for their actions without necessarily getting them involved in the adult penal system.

What is a Juvenile Delinquency Case?

A Juvenile Delinquency case is one in which a child under age 17 (age 18 as of January 1, 2021) is accused of committing an act that, if committed by an adult, would be considered a crime (i.e. Assault, Burglary, Stealing, etc.). 

 

Delinquency charges are pursued by the local Juvenile Officer in front of a juvenile court judge or commissioner.  Although these cases are not technically considered "criminal," children are afforded similar constitutional guarantees as adults involved in the criminal justice system, as well as some additional protections due their youth. 

Status Offenses

Along similar lines as delinquencies, children 17 and younger might be accused of engaging in non-criminal conduct which, due simply to the child's age (or "status"), warrants the juvenile court's involvement.  Examples of status offenses include:

  • Truancy from school;

  • Disobedience at home (beyond parental control);

  • Habitual absence from home without justification; and

  • Engaging in other behaviors that are injurious to his or her welfare.

What is an Adjudication Hearing?

Adjudication is the "trial" for a delinquency case.  Its purpose is to determine whether or not the facts alleged in the Juvenile Officer's petition are true and whether the child is in need services through the juvenile justice system.  The Juvenile Officer has the burden to prove the child committed the alleged acts.  The Attorney for the Juvenile Officer ("AJO") will call witnesses and provide the court with other evidence, such as crime scene photos, to try and prove her case.  The standard of proof for delinquency charges is "beyond a reasonable doubt."  For status offenses, the standard is "clear and convincing evidence."  The other parties (typically just the child through an attorney, but potentially the parents as well) will have the opportunity to question the AJO's witnesses, call their own witnesses to testify, and provide any other evidence to the court.  Once all the parties have taken their turns, the court will make its decision.

Does the case have to go to trial?

Not necessarily.  In rare circumstances, a delinquency case might be dismissed by the Juvenile Officer.  In other circumstances, the evidence might be so overwhelming that negotiating the child's admission to a lower charge might make more sense (like a plea arrangement in a criminal case).  On the positive side, this may prevent the child's records from becoming open to the public, and it could also allow the child to avoid being placed on the juvenile or adult sex offender registries.  The downside to an admission, is that the child will not have the ability to confront witnesses through counsel, call witnesses on his or her behalf, or appeal the court's decision.

What is a Disposition Hearing?

Disposition is similar to a sentencing hearing in adult criminal cases.  It's where the court decides what to do with the child now that the facts of the offense have been proven.  Like Adjudication, the parties will put on evidence by calling witnesses or offering documents, such as victim statements and the child's education, mental health, and/or social records.  Once all the parties have taken their turns, the court will hear arguments and make its decision.

Will my child be sent to "Juvie"?

The answer depends on the circumstances, and we are not going to try and predict a court's decision here.  Just know that "Juvie" isn't the only option.  In some cases, the child can be placed on probation, where he or she will be ordered to participate in various services meant to, hopefully, prevent similar conduct from occurring in the future.  In other cases, the court might place younger or low-risk offenders in a non-secure, residential facility that offers similar, but more in-depth, programming.  And, in some other cases, the court might commit the child to the custody of the Missouri Division of Youth Services ("Juvie"), which has several secure detention facilities throughout the State.

What services will my child have to participate in?

Services depend on the county, residential facility (if any), and the circumstances of the child's case.  In general, it is possible that the court may order the him or her to attend in various counseling sessions or other therapies, participate in GPS monitoring or curfew programs, and/or perform community service.  

 

What to do if your child is facing delinquency charges

Delinquency charges are serious and can dramatically affect your child's future.  The advice and guidance from an attorney experienced with juvenile matters is crucial to ensuring your child is put in the best position possible following the outcome of his or her case.  Mike Herrin is a former Attorney for the Juvenile Officer who understands the juvenile system and wants your child to succeed.

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