How Does Juvenile Court Differ from Adult Court?

August 20, 2021

Juvenile Court

Under the United States legal system, unlawful acts committed by an adult is seen differently if the same act is committed by a juvenile.  The definition of a juvenile may differ from state to state.  Someone is considered a juvenile if they are under the age of 18, but some states classify juveniles if they are under 16 or 17 years, or if they fall within a certain age bracket, such as 12 to 18.

There are many differences between the adult justice system and the juvenile system, and it is imperative for anyone, adult or child, to understand these differences if faced with any legal issues. These differences span all aspects of the legal system: definitions, terminology, sentencing, and several more.

It is also important to understand that the adult legal system is aimed to punish the offender, whereas the juvenile system is aimed to rehabilitate the individual, in hopes they do not offend again.  In some states, a juvenile may be charged as an adult if charged with a very serious crime, such as murder; however, it is rare that a minor would commit such a crime.

Differences in Terminology

The treatment of juveniles in the court system is much more lenient compared with adults, which is evident in the terminology used:

  • Delinquent acts. Instead of criminal acts and committing crimes, the terms used for adult offenders, juvenile offenders are instead said to commit delinquent acts.
  • Adjudication. The term adjudication is used to describe if a juvenile has been tried by a judge and had been found guilty. Note that the juvenile is not convicted, as an adult would be; instead, they are adjudicated.
  • Disposition. Adults are sentenced when their punishment is determined and receive a sentence. Meanwhile, a juvenile receives a disposition.
  • Petition. If an adult commits a criminal act, a complaint is filed; if a juvenile breaks the law, a petition is filed.

Differences in Court

There are notable differences between adult criminal court and juvenile court as well:

  • Judge. Juvenile cases are heard only by a judge, who will determine whether the juvenile is guilty. Adults have the right to a trial by jury, where a jury may determine the outcome as well.
  • Closed hearings. Juvenile hearings are closed, and details are withheld from public view, as is the juvenile’s name and record.
  • County jurisdiction. If an adult commits a crime in a county in which they do not live, they are tried in the jurisdiction the crime is committed, whereas a juvenile will be returned and tried in the county they are from.
  • Expungement. The guidelines to expunging a juvenile’s record are much more lenient than those of an adult’s; as stated previously, the goal is to rehabilitate a juvenile’s image for an offense, not to punish them.

Both juveniles and adults have the right to a lawyer or an appointed public defender, as well as the right to a trial or hearing.  Both must be presumed innocent until proved guilty.  In juvenile cases, only the judge may drop the charges.  The judge may also hear cross-examinations and defenses by the prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers.

It is also important to understand that in juvenile cases, their family will likely be involved as heavily as the child.  More than likely, the parents of the juvenile will have to pay fines or help the juvenile schedule or attend hearings.

A family’s involvement is essential to the juvenile’s case and may help determine the outcome.  When making a decision on a case, a judge may look at the child’s history, whether there had been previous offenses, and if their parents had been involved in the child’s development.

West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Law Offices of Heather J. Mattes Help Defend the Rights of Minors and their Families

A minor is not fully developed enough to understand the law and the consequences of unlawful actions.  If a juvenile has been arrested and a petition has been filed, they need responsible adults and a caring family to help them through the case.  If your child has been charged with an offense, contact the West Chester criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Heather J. Mattes immediately.  Our knowledgeable team has the experience necessary to achieve the best possible outcome for your child and your family.  Call us today at 610-431-7900 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. With our offices located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve all communities of Chester County, Bucks County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.

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