Indiana Juvenile Justice System

How Children Get to Juvenile Court

Most children under 18 years old who are arrested or break the law will have their case in juvenile court. They may be there because of a delinquent offense or a status offense. Examples of delinquent offenses include shoplifting, battery, and driving a car without a license, along with many other crimes that can also be committed by adults. Examples of status offenses are truancy from school, curfew violations, underage drinking, and running away from home. Only children can commit status offenses.

If a child is referred to juvenile court, a lot of different things can happen. Sometimes the child can decide to do an informal plan with probation instead of going in front of a judge. Other times, the child does have to go before a judge. The judge can decide whether to close a case, put a child on probation, or send a child to the Department of Correction. The judge can order the child to do things like counseling, community service work, meet with a mentor, go to school, or even go to a secure facility.

A child in juvenile court has a lot of rights. You can learn more about your rights here. Every child has a right to an attorney. It is very important that an attorney or public defender is assigned to represent every child in juvenile court. The attorney will help the child understand what is happening in the case and will help the child get the result he or she wants. You can learn more about how to get an attorney here.

Being referred to juvenile court can make things hard for a child. You can learn more about how a juvenile case can impact you here.

Juvenile findings do not go away when a child turns 18. These records stay in a computer system until you ask for them to be deleted, or expunged. Learn how to ask for an expungement here.

People in the Juvenile Justice System

If you go to juvenile court you will see that there are a lot of people involved in the process. The following information will help you understand who these people are and what they do.

Intake Officer - An intake officer is the first person a child and parent will talk to in the juvenile justice system. They gather information about the child and tell it to the judge. Sometimes they make decisions about the case including whether you are released or stay in detention until you see the judge.

Probation Officer - A probation officer works for the court. They tell the judge what should happen in the case and supervise children on probation.

Judge/Magistrate/Referee/Commissioner – The judge is in charge of the court and makes decisions about the case and the people involved in it. They decide if a child stays in detention, decide who wins at trial, and decide if a child is put on probation or sent to Department of Correction.

Prosecutor - The prosecutor is a lawyer who works with the police to bring charges against someone. The prosecutor tries to convince the judge that the child broke the law. The prosecutor also tells the judge what he or she thinks should happen to the child. The prosecutor should not talk to the child without the child's attorney being there. Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) - The judge may appoint a person to serve as a child’s guardian ad litem. This person will tell the judge what he or she thinks is in the child’s best interests.

Defense Attorney or Public Defender - All children in juvenile court have the right to be represented by an attorney. The attorney’s job is to talk the child, investigate the case and try to get the outcome that the child wants. The attorney works for the child. The conversations between the attorney and the child are confidential. This means that the attorney is not allowed to tell anyone this information unless the child tells them they can. Learn more about how to get an attorney here.

Stages of Juvenile Cases

A lot of different things can happen when a child goes to juvenile court. Much of this depends on what kind of hearing is taking place. The following information will help you learn more about what can happen when you go to juvenile court.

Detention Hearing – When a child is arrested and kept at a detention center he or she has to see a judge within 48 hours (not counting weekends or holidays). At this detention hearing the judge will decide whether the child has to stay at the detention center or if he or she can go home. The child should have an attorney at this hearing. The attorney will tell the judge what the child wants and will give information on who will supervise the child if he or she gets released.

Informal Adjustment/Diversion – This is a program the judge can put a child into that requires the child to stay out of trouble for a certain period of time. The program may require the child to do certain things like community service and other activities that a probation officer will check on. If the child completes the program, he or she will not have to go to court.

Initial Hearing – This is the hearing where the child will be told what charges he or she is being accused of. The child should have an attorney at this hearing to help the child decide how to respond to the charges. Learn more about how to get an attorney here.

Waiver Hearing – This hearing only happens when the prosecutor asks the judge to take the child’s case out of juvenile court and send it to adult court. The judge will hear information about the child and the case. The judge will use this information to decide which court is best for case to be heard. It is really important that any child facing waiver is represented by an attorney.

Fact-Finding Hearing – This is a trial where witness testify about what did or did not happen in the case. After the witnesses talk the judge will decide whether the child did something wrong. A child should always be represented by an attorney at a trial. The attorney will present any evidence and law that will help the child.

Dispositional Hearing – This is a hearing happens after a judge decides that a child has broken the law. This is where the judge decides what should happen to the child. The judge can order the child to do a lot of different things including be on probation, participate in treatment and even live somewhere else like a secure facility or the Department of Correction.

Review Hearing – At these hearings the judge checks to see how the child is doing on probation. A review hearing happens at least every 6 months until the child is told that his or her case is closed.

More Information

To learn more about Indiana’s Juvenile Justice System, check out this guide prepared by the Youth Law T.E.A.M. of Indiana: In English http://youthlawteam.org/files/2015%20Parent's%20Guide.pdf , and in Spanish http://youthlawteam.org/files/Parent's%20Guide%202015%20edits_SP%20rev.pdf