The Juvenile Courtroom: Process, Roles & Confidentiality Rules

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The juvenile justice system, which applies to those age 18 and under, is vastly different from the adult criminal justice system. This lesson is about the juvenile justice system and how it works, along with special confidentiality considerations. Updated: 07/20/2020

Who is Eligible for Juvenile Court?

Should a child or teenager be held to the same levels of accountability as an adult? Most people would agree that children don't have the same decision-making maturity that adults do, that a different standard for punishment of crimes would be deemed just or fair. In order to provide a system that was adequate for adolescent delinquents, juvenile courts were created to provide a fair legal system for children.

Juvenile courts are civil courts in which younger citizens who are accused of a delinquent act are dealt with by a specialized judicial system. In order to be eligible for juvenile court, a child must be old enough to be capable of having some sort of intent to commit a wrongful act, but young enough to still behave badly under certain kinds of influence. Juvenile courts are designed to give the young perpetrator a chance to accept responsibility for his/her actions and to take steps to create positive change to avoid having a criminal record for life.

Legal Status of Delinquency

The age at which someone has the legal status as a juvenile delinquent varies from state to state, but generally this status ends at around age eighteen. In general, a young person can have the legal status of juvenile delinquent if he or she has violated or has tried to violate any state or federal law. However, for a person who is deemed a juvenile, there is a difference between simply breaking a law and committing what is known as a status offense. A status offense is an offense that is a wrongful act if committed by a juvenile but would not be a crime if committed by an adult. For example, if an adult has a bit too much to drink one evening and, as a result, calls in sick to work the next day, he has not committed a crime. But if a fourteen year old high school student drinks several beers and then skips school the next couple days, this is a status offense because it is an act that underage minors are not allowed to do by virtue of their age alone. Repeated status offenses can put a young person into the category of juvenile delinquent.

The Juvenile Court Process and Personnel

The first step in the juvenile court process is that a juvenile is reported to the police for doing something wrong. The police officer then refers the child to a court intake officer or the County Attorney's Office, where he enters the system.

Court Intake Officer

The court intake officer is someone with a bachelors' degree in criminal justice or similar who determines what will happen to the juvenile after he is reported. This officer determines probable cause and then decides whether it's more appropriate to detain the child in a correctional facility or to send him to a shelter or to his home for follow up with mental health services or counselors.

Guardian Ad Litem

If the juvenile is not discharged and continues to go through the court system, a guardian ad litem, or also know as GAL, may be appointed by the court to be the juvenile's advocate during the proceedings. The GAL is usually an attorney and is an objective and independent party.


If the offense that the juvenile has committed is serious enough, they may be kept in detention, which means they'll be held in a juvenile correction facility. They cannot be held there for more than about 24 to 48 hours and must then appear before a court. Those who are not held in detention may be sent home and then will receive a summons to appear in court by mail.

Arraignment Hearing

After the adolescent is either detained or sent home in custody of his parents, the offending juvenile must appear in court at the arraignment hearing. The juvenile is entitled to have an attorney and must either ''admit'' or ''deny'' being guilty of the offense for which he has been petitioned. If the juvenile admits guilt, there is then a disposition, which is analogous to a sentence in an adult criminal case but is more specific for juveniles. If the juvenile denies guilt, there will then be a trial.

Trial and Disposition

After denial of guilt, the trail is held by a juvenile court judge but may also involve a jury. The judge and/or jury then determine whether the offense is proven or unproven. The juvenile may have his/her own attorney at the trial, and the state will have a prosecuting attorney to represent it. If the juvenile is found to be guilty of the offense, there is then a disposition hearing in which sentencing is given. The most severe of these is detention in a juvenile facility.

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