The juvenile criminal justice system is run differently than it is for adults who have committed crimes. Though laws vary by state, most juveniles over the age of seven and under the age of 18 who are accused of committing a crime will go through the juvenile justice system. Children under the age of seven are generally not penalized, though the parents may be held accountable for the crime. Juveniles who commit serious crimes may be tried as an adult.
When a minor has been detained for committing an alleged crime, police have the choice of warning the child and letting him or her go, detaining the minor until the parents come and pick up the child or taking the child into custody and referring him or her to juvenile court. The next step is appearing in the detention hearing. In Georgia, this must happen within 48 hours of being taken into the detention center.
If charges are filed against a juvenile, the minor will then be formally charged before a judge. A plea is then entered, and a criminal defense lawyer can help the minor build a defense. During the trial, most juveniles are tried before a judge rather than a jury. If the judge finds the minor guilty, he or she will then pronounce a sentence. The juvenile justice system is designed to help minors straighten up their lives in hopes that they won’t commit crimes as adults.
Minors who are accused of committing a crime are often scared and unsure of what will happen next. It’s important that a minor accused of a crime understands his or her rights and doesn’t confess to a crime without having parents or lawyers present. A criminal defense lawyer might help a minor understand their rights and give advice on how to best proceed through the juvenile justice system.