Juvenile Crime

Nothing can be more terrifying that when your child is in trouble. You are probably feeling a mixture of emotions from anger about what your child may have done to fear for your child and his or her future. This is normal. The juvenile courts in Oklahoma are set up with rehabilitation of the juvenile offender in mind and is a very different process than the Oklahoma adult court system. However, having your child in the juvenile court system can create it's own set of problems. It is important for the future of your child to retain an attorney experienced in juvenile matters to assist you with this process.

Juvenile court differs from adult court in many ways. In general, the focus of juvenile court is to rehabilitate the minor not to incarcerate. Below is a brief description of what you can expect if your child has some trouble with the law.

"Juvenile justice" is an umbrella term for the special procedures set up by every state to deal with young people whose cases belong in juvenile court. Juvenile courts handle most of the cases in which young people (usually called "juveniles" or "minors") are accused of committing crimes. Of course, the treatment of juveniles differs from state to state, judge to judge, cop to cop. And if differences of opinion generally exist about "getting tough on crime," the conflicting opinions on how to deal with minors’ accused of crimes are greater still. Not every young person who commits an offense ends up in juvenile court. A police officer that suspects a minor has committed a crime may:

  • Detain and warn the minor against further violations, and then let the minor go free
  • Detain and warn the minor against further violations, but hold the minor until a parent or guardian comes for the minor,
  • Place the minor in custody and refer the case to a juvenile court.

If the police refer a case to the juvenile court, a prosecutor or a juvenile court "intake" officer (often a probation officer) must then decide whether to:

  • dismiss the matter
  • handle the matter informally, or
  • "petition" the matter by filing formal charges.

In some localities, the probation officer makes only a preliminary assessment of whether to file formal charges, and leaves the final decision to a prosecutor. After this initial decision is made, procedures vary. What follows is a brief overview of how juvenile cases typically flow through the juvenile justice system:

A decision to proceed informally often means that the minor must appear before a probation officer or a judge. The minor may receive a stern lecture, and may also be required to attend counseling sessions or after-school classes, repay the victim for damaged property or pay a fine, perform community service work or go on probation. If the intake officer suspects that a minor taken into custody has been abused or neglected, the officer may initiate proceedings to remove the minor from the custody of his or her parents or guardians.

If the intake officer decides to proceed formally, he or she files a petition and the case is placed on the juvenile court's calendar and the minor is arraigned (formally charged) before a juvenile court judge or referee.

At this point, the juvenile court either takes jurisdiction of the case or, if the crime or the juvenile's personal characteristics indicate that the case should be handled in regular court, the judge sets the case for a "fitness hearing." At the hearing, the judge will determine whether the minor should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult in regular court. As younger and younger minors commit  more violent crimes, these fitness hearings are becoming more common.

if the case remains in juvenile court, the minor either enters into a plea agreement or faces trial (often called an "adjudication"). If, after trial, the juvenile courts judge "sustains the petition" (concludes that the charges are true), the judge decides on an appropriate sentence (usually referred to as a disposition). Post-disposition hearings may occur. For example, a judge's disposition order may require a minor to appear in court periodically so that the judge can monitor the minor's behavior.

If your child has been charged with a crime in Oklahoma, contact a criminal defense attorney that  has experience with juvenile charges.