A Juvenile prosecution is a scary time in any child or parent’s life. To enable Juveniles to make the best possible decisions at every stage of their case, it is important for them to know how the Juvenile system works. What follows is a basic explanation of how a Juvenile case gets into the court system and some relevant differences between Maine’s Juvenile courts and adult criminal courts.
A Juvenile case begins with a complaint filed by the police. A complaint arises from police contact during which the Juvenile is issued a summons or arrested. The police then pass on their report to a special member of law enforcement called a Juvenile Community Corrections Officer (JCCO), who is assigned to the Juvenile’s case. The JCCO reviews the complaint and determines whether they will petition the District Attorney to press charges against the Juvenile. If the JCCO determines that formal charges are not necessary, they may engage in an “informal adjustment” by working personally with the Juvenile to change some behaviors. Good Juvenile attorneys work closely with their client’s JCCO to avoid charges altogether or to mitigate the severity of charges that are prosecuted.
If a JCCO petitions the District Attorney to press charges, the case will be formally prosecuted in Juvenile court. In the state of Maine, Juveniles can be prosecuted for any crime for which an adult may be prosecuted. Additionally, Juveniles may be prosecuted for certain other crimes such as possessing alcohol underage or (in certain locations) for violating curfew. While many of the crimes prosecuted in the Juvenile system are the same as those prosecuted in adult criminal court, there are many significant differences between the Juvenile and adult systems.
First and foremost, Maine’s Juvenile code is designed to rehabilitate Juvenile offenders. To accomplish that goal, prosecutors and courts are given broad discretion to impose any number of dispositional alternatives (i.e. sentences) allowed under Maine law. In adult criminal court, defendants are usually sentenced to jail or fines, or both. Juvenile courts are generally not interested in punishing young offenders, and are more interested in correcting illegal behavior. Juvenile courts may accomplish that goal through any number of dispositional alternatives: placing the Juvenile offender in residential treatment program; removing the Juvenile offender from the custody of their parent or legal guardian; placing the Juvenile in a youth detention facility; requiring counseling or substance abuse treatment; requiring a period of probation; requiring the repayment of restitution to victims; and imposing fines or community service.
The Juvenile court system offers offenders a different range of sentences than adult defendants, and offers a different array of protections for Juveniles as well. To protect minors’ privacy, Juvenile proceedings are closed and confidential. The only persons allowed in the courtroom during a Juvenile proceeding are the prosecutor, the Juvenile’s JCCO, the judge, necessary law enforcement personnel, the Juvenile, the Juvenile’s family and attorney, and other important participants such as mental health case managers, therapists, doctors or teachers. Furthermore, a Juvenile’s name may not be released or published in the media. And Juveniles neither plead “guilty,” nor are they found “guilty” by a Juvenile court. Rather, Juveniles “admit” to the charges against them, or are “adjudicated” by a judge.
Despite the fact that Juveniles are afforded special privacy protections in their cases, admitting to or being adjudicated of a Juvenile crime can carry serious future consequences. Certain crimes can prohibit a Juvenile from receiving Federal financial aid for college. Some crimes can affect a Juvenile’s ability to hold or obtain a driver’s license, as well as obtain certain professional licenses in the future. Still other crimes may have to be disclosed on future job applications. In order to mitigate the severity of these consequences, you should seek the advice of a skilled and experienced attorney.