Kansas City Juvenile Delinquency Attorney
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 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, and although cases are not technically considered "criminal," children are afforded the same constitutional guarantees as adults in the criminal justice system, as well as some additional protections due their youth.
Along similar lines as delinquencies, children 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.
Constitutional Protections for Children 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. Children are afforded many of the same protections given to adults. See 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 children 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 child 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 child'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.
Rights if Child 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. The Juvenile Officer or someone at the detention facility is required to notify the child's parents of the arrest as soon as possible. The court is then required to hold a Detention Hearing within three days (excluding weekends and holidays).
If the court decides that continued detention is appropriate, an Adjudication Hearing (or trial) is to be held at the earliest possible date.
Right to Counsel
Children are entitled to representation by an attorney, whether hired or appointed, in any delinquency or status offense proceeding. A child can waive this right only with court approval.
Despite adults having the "right to a speedy trial," criminal cases can sometimes last a long time before the proceedings finally end. Missouri juvenile cases, however, tend to be much faster and are often resolved within a couple months. If a child is held in detention, there is even more pressure on the court and Juvenile Officer 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 child is adjudicated delinquent for a felony offense will the records of his or her Disposition Hearing and other proceedings be open to the public.
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." 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 happens at 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.
Section 211, Revised Statutes of Missouri
Jackson County, MO Resources