Missouri Juvenile Delinquency
Kids get into trouble. Sometimes the problem is easily resolved at home, but other times, the government will step in to address the problem. 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 juvenile under age 17 (in Missouri) is accused of committing an act that, if committed by an adult, would be considered a crime (i.e. Assault, Burglary, Stealing, etc.). RSMo. § 211.031.1(3). Delinquency charges are pursued by the local Juvenile Officer in front of a Family Court judge or commissioner, and although cases are not technically considered "criminal," juveniles are afforded the same constitutional guarantees as those in the adult criminal justice system, as well as some additional protections due their youth.
Along similar lines as delinquencies, juveniles who are 17 and younger might be accused of engaging in non-criminal conduct which can warrant the courts getting involved. These non-criminal acts are called "status offenses," or in other words, offenses that are applicable only to juveniles. 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.
Juvenile Constitutional Protections in Missouri
You've probably seen TV shows where a cop arrests someone and says, "You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…" and so on. Police advising people of certain rights before questioning them is an example a constitutional protection, and juveniles are afforded many of the same protections given to adults. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) (juveniles entitled to notice of the charges, counsel, confrontation of witnesses, and the privilege against self-incrimination). Constitutional law is a beast in itself, so for purposes here, we'll keep things focused on some basic protections in the Missouri juvenile justice system.
Juvenile Miranda Warnings
Like our above example, when juveniles are arrested in Missouri, law enforcement officials are required to advise them that:
They have the right to remain silent;
Any statement they make can and may be used against them in juvenile court;
They have the right to have a parent, guardian, or custodian present during questioning;
They have the right to consult with an attorney, and that an attorney will be appointed and paid for them if they cannot afford one;
They have the right to stop talking at any time; and
Any statement they make can and may be used against them in a criminal court if the juvenile is "certified" to be tried as an adult.
Sometimes during questioning, a representative of the local Juvenile Officer may be present along with the police to ensure the juvenile's rights are protected during the interview. That representative is not to engage in any questioning about the alleged offense, but if need be, he or she can stop the police from asking questions if the juvenile wants the interview to stop. RSMo. § 211.059.2.
Rights if Juvenile is Placed in Detention
If a child is arrested and placed in detention, he or she cannot be held for more than 24 hours without a court order. RSMo. § 211.061.4; see also Missouri Supreme Court Rule 127.06(a). The Juvenile Officer or someone at the detention facility is required to notify the juvenile's parents as soon as practicable. Missouri Supreme Court Rule 127.05. The court is then required to hold a Detention Hearing within three days (excluding weekends and holidays). RSMo. § 211.061.4; see also Missouri Supreme Court Rule 127.06(b).
Right to Counsel
Juveniles are entitled to representation by an attorney, whether hired or appointed, in any delinquency or status offense proceeding. RSMo. 211.211; see also Missouri Supreme Court Rule 115.02. A juvenile can waive this right only with court approval. Missouri Supreme Court Rule 115.01.
Despite having the "right to a speedy trial," adult criminal cases can sometimes last several years before the proceedings finally end. Missouri juvenile cases, however, tend to be much faster and are often resolved within a few months. If a juvenile is held in detention, there is even more pressure on the court and Juvenile Office to try and finalize the case as quickly as possible.
In general, juvenile records, including social files and records from the proceedings, are to be kept confidential. Only if a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent for a felony offense will the records of his or her Disposition Hearing and other proceedings be open to the public. RSMo. § 211.321.
What happens at an Adjudication Hearing?
Adjudication is the "trial" for a delinquency case. 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." In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970); see also Comments to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 128.02. For status offenses, the standard is "clear and convincing evidence." See Comments to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 128.02. The other parties 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 juvenile's admission to a lower charge might make more sense (like a plea agreement in a criminal case). On the positive side, this may prevent the juvenile's records from becoming open to the public, and it could also allow the juvenile to avoid being placed on the juvenile or adult sex offender registries. The downside to an admission, is that the juvenile will not have the ability to confront witnesses through counsel, call witnesses on his or her behalf, or appeal the court's decision.
What happens at a Disposition Hearing?
Disposition is similar to a sentencing hearing in the adult criminal courts. Like Adjudication, the court will receive evidence from the parties, which can include victim statements, the juvenile's social records, and any other evidence deemed relevant to the juvenile's custody and rehabilitation. Once all the evidence is received, the court will enter its order.
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. What is important for juveniles and parents to know, however, is that there are a few possible options for a juvenile's custody after a case has been adjudicated. In some cases, the juvenile can be placed on probation through the courts. While on probation, he or she might be ordered to participate in various services that are meant to, hopefully, prevent similar conduct from occurring. In some cases, the court might place the juvenile in a non-secure detention facility. These are typically meant for younger or low-risk juvenile offenders. And, in some other cases, the court might commit the juvenile to the custody of the Missouri Division of Youth Services, 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 juvenile's case. In general, it is possible that the court may order the juvenile 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. Contact us today!
Section 211, Revised Statutes of Missouri
Jackson County, MO Resources