In Michigan, when someone accuses a child of having committed a crime, the matter is referred to the family division of the circuit court as a juvenile delinquency case. Although not all such cases go to court, the ones that do can be problematic later for young people who may enter adulthood with a record.
If that child is yours, it can be particularly painful to watch this happen. We all want what is best for our children, so it makes sense to find out more about the process and understand what legal options there are for your child to fight for their rights and minimize the consequences of a sentencing or disposition.
Crimes that result in adjudication
Although most juvenile court referrals come from law enforcement, the rest are referred by school administrators, private citizens and the parents themselves. Only half of these result in a formal intervention, as the rest are dismissed for lack of evidence. Once the case begins, unless the defense team can reach a plea deal or deferral, it will go to trial.
The purpose of juvenile court is to rehabilitate, not punish children, and the terminology reflects this. If the court finds the child guilty, the case results in an adjudication instead of a conviction, and the judge will declare a disposition instead of a sentencing. The judge has a wide range of options for a disposition, from a dismissal of the petition with a warning to juvenile detention.
If the child is aged 14 or older, certain alleged crimes such as armed robbery, criminal sexual conduct, or murder can prompt the prosecution to request a waiver to try the juvenile as an adult. For serious sexual offenses, whether the child was convicted as an adult or received a juvenile disposition, they may still be required to register as a sex offender.
Seeing the warning signs
Children who have grown up in challenging circumstances, such as living in a poor neighborhood, experiencing domestic violence or substance abuse in the home, or not having adequate adult supervision and care, can develop problems that can lead to juvenile delinquency later. Some of the warning signs to watch for include:
- Brain injury or developmental disability that does not receive support.
- Emotional disturbance without management support.
- Performing poorly in school and having no outside interests or social contacts.
- Has witnessed verbal, physical, or psychological abuse in the home.
- Identifying with others who are a bad influence.
In Michigan, many juvenile court records are public, so it is important to understand the options for minimizing the impact of an adjudication, which can include placement on a consent calendar or deferral.