Caring And Protective Guidance Through Michigan’s Juvenile Justice Process
The juvenile justice system in Michigan is complex and can be overwhelming — or even frightening — for a child, teenager, or family that encounters the system. Juveniles who encounter the system often do so because they fell in with the wrong crowd, made a mistake or a bad decision, were acting out because of stress or trauma, or were simply accused of doing something they didn’t do. Complaints about juvenile offenses often originate in schools, where zero tolerance policies sometimes mean that a juvenile’s voice isn’t heard.
When a child or teenager is suspected of breaking a law and faces a charge of juvenile delinquency, that can affect the youth for years to come. Once a juvenile is found to be delinquent, that child or teenager is likely to suffer a stigma as a “bad kid” that may affect his or her ability to succeed in school, to get a first job, or to plan for college. The stress of delinquency proceedings may affect a juvenile’s relationship with his or her family and make home life a source of anxiety and uncertainty at a time when the juvenile most needs stability and support.
The juvenile justice system is designed with different goals than the adult criminal justice system, with a focus on rehabilitation and trying to set juveniles who have gotten into trouble back on a path toward becoming law-abiding and productive adults. Lawyers play an important role in the system as advocates for juveniles and their rights. A compassionate juvenile defense lawyer can work to ensure that the juvenile court process accounts for the best interests of the child or teenager and allows for his or her future to be preserved.
What Is Juvenile Delinquency?
When a juvenile under age 17 commits a crime, he or she technically isn’t charged with the crime, but rather goes through a process called a delinquency action. A juvenile may face a delinquency action for any offense that would be a crime if he or she were an adult.
A delinquency action is a process that happens within the Family Division of a county circuit court, and involves trying to determine whether the juvenile violated a criminal law, traffic law, or committed a status offense. Status offenses are offenses specific to juveniles, and are only offenses because of their age. They are not offenses that would be crimes for an adult. Some common status offenses that might result in a delinquency proceeding include:
- Running away from home
- Being a “wayward minor”
Delinquency proceedings don’t apply to children under age 7, who aren’t deemed capable of forming the intent to commit crimes. Lawyers representing children ages 7 to 14 may be able to use their youth and immaturity, under a common law principle known as the Infancy Defense, when defending them in delinquency proceedings.
Under some circumstances, including when the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult, a juvenile who is 14 or older may be tried as an adult in Michigan and may face serious criminal penalties. A felony conviction can result in years of imprisonment, thousands of dollars in fines, and lifelong impacts on a juvenile’s ability to get a job, rent a place to live, go to college, or enter a profession such as law, teaching, nursing, or medicine. When a juvenile faces the possibility of being tried and sentenced as an adult, it’s especially important for the juvenile to be represented by a skilled Michigan criminal defense lawyer.
Common Offenses Resulting In Juvenile Delinquency Charges
Many juveniles end up in the juvenile justice system because they are suspected of committing offenses that would be charged as crimes if they were committed by an adult. Some of the most common offenses that lead to juvenile delinquency petitions include:
- OWI — If there is evidence that juvenile may be guilty of drunk driving or operating while intoxicated, that often leads a prosecutor to pursue a juvenile delinquency petition
- Shoplifting — Stealing from a store, regardless of the dollar value of the theft, is an offense known as retail fraud when committed by an adult, and may result in a juvenile delinquency petition when committed by a child or a teen
- Drug Possession — Possession of marijuana or other controlled substances, particularly on school grounds, may result in delinquency proceedings
- Assault — Threatening or using force against another person, such as a classmate, teacher, or family member, may result in delinquency proceedings
- Destruction of Property — The offense known in Michigan as malicious destruction of property, which could include actions such as smashing windows or tagging buildings with graffiti, may result in delinquency proceedings
Steps In The Juvenile Delinquency Process
When a juvenile is accused of violating a law, there are several steps to the process. Those include:
- Petition — A prosecutor evaluates the evidence and decides whether to initiate a petition for delinquency, which is similar to filing charges in an adult criminal case. If the prosecutor initiates a delinquency petition, the court process starts.
- Preliminary Inquiry and Hearing — The first thing to happen after the petition is filed is a preliminary inquiry. In some ways, this is like an arraignment in an adult criminal proceeding. There’s a hearing at which charges are read and the juvenile is advised of his or her rights. Sometimes a juvenile case may be resolved at this preliminary hearing by the juvenile agreeing to counseling, being placed on probation, or having the case dismissed with a warning. If the case is not resolved, the court will set it on the docket for further hearings. If the juvenile admits responsibility for the offense that led to the delinquency petition, the court will schedule a hearing for the juvenile to formally enter a plea and for the court to decide on a disposition or outcome, similar to a sentencing hearing in an adult criminal case.
- Trial — If the juvenile does not admit responsibility, then the case will continue moving through the process and may go to trial to determine whether the juvenile committed the offense underlying the delinquency petition. As with an adult criminal offense, a prosecutor must prove a juvenile’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Adjudication and Disposition — If the juvenile is found to have committed the offense and is deemed delinquent, then the next step is adjudication. If there is a verdict that the juvenile committed an offense, or the juvenile pleads guilty, then the case moves to disposition.
Disposition of Juvenile Delinquency Cases
Because the juvenile justice system is intended to rehabilitate, judges overseeing juvenile delinquency cases have discretion to decide on a number of different possible outcomes when a juvenile is determined to be delinquent. Those may include, but are not limited to:
- Placing the juvenile in foster care
- Community service
- Participation in treatment, counseling or school programs
- Payment of restitution
An experienced Michigan juvenile defense lawyer can explain the possible outcomes in the specific case involving your juvenile, and what is likely in the court where your juvenile’s delinquency petition is being considered.
Juvenile Defendants Have Rights In Need Of Protection
Juveniles have many of the same rights in the court system that are possessed by adults facing criminal charges. Those rights include:
- The right to be represented by an attorney
- The right to remain silent
- The right to confront witnesses testifying against them
- The right to call witnesses to testify on their behalf
- The right to testify on their own behalf
The right to an attorney may be the most important of those, since representation by an experienced Michigan juvenile defense lawyer is what can best ensure that all of the juvenile’s other rights are preserved and protected through the delinquency process.
Compassionate Representation For Young Defendants – Contact Us Today
At DeBruin Law, PLLC, we have years of experience representing juveniles and families encountering the legal system and working to ensure that children and teens receive the justice they deserve. We’re committed to providing qualified, compassionate representation so that every juvenile we defend is treated fairly and gets the outcome that is in his or her best interest — and that preserves the juvenile’s ability to move past this troubling time and protects his or her future from being permanently impacted.