In Washington State, our criminal lawyers know that the Juvenile Court System is designed to handle crimes associated with juvenile law specifically. The juvenile law system, for all practical purposes, is a separate part altogether of the Washington state adult courts. These cases are usually referred to as juvenile delinquency cases. Juvenile delinquency cases concern charges of a criminal law violation by a “minor”. A “minor” is defined as a child under the age of 18.

It’s important to understand that while the adult correctional system is primarily set up for the punishment of the offender, the juvenile courts attempt to get the minor offender treatment and rehabilitation. Due to this difference, the state’s juvenile justice system has varied methods and programs for addressing juvenile crime. The courts do, however, view the severity of the offense and the background of the offender when deciding how to proceed.

The severity of the crime will have a direct impact on how the case is prosecuted and how the court proceeds. The Washington state court system provides for escalating responses to offenses of increasing severity, such as informal probation, formal probation, detention, and incarceration. Also, having the goal of rehabilitation, many more agencies have a role to play in Washington’s juvenile justice system than in the adult system. These may include schools, social service agencies, and community-based organizations.

It is very important to note that the Washington juvenile justice courts provide the police, probation officials, and the prosecuting attorneys with very broad discretion regarding the treatment of juvenile offenders. This discretion starts with the arrest itself (whether the child can be released to their parents or not) and is pervasive throughout the entire process.

The juvenile court also can allow (or recommend) that a minor as young as 14 can be transferred into the adult court system if the child’s crime was serious enough. Admittedly, this is is a drastic measure, and usually, a judge will rule as to whether it is appropriate to take these actions.

Because of the previous subjects of discretion in the case, and how seriously it can be tried, if the child has caused serious injury to the victim, a weapon was used in the crime, or the minor has prior convictions, this is especially true. This decision would be the worst outcome for your child. By being tried as an adult, the punishments (such as jail time, fines, etc.) are far more severe and could affect the child for years to come.

The above are examples of the severity of the charges and penalties that a minor offender can suffer. However, minor offenders have all the same rights as adults, and in some specific cases, even more. The Washington state courts lean towards helping the juvenile offender if at all possible. By immediately retaining a Seattle juvenile defense attorney, you have your best hope to obtain the best possible outcome for your child.

What Occurs in a Juvenile Court Hearing?

After the initial arrest, the minor offender taken to juvenile detention. Here, a judge must make a determination of probable cause within 48 hours in order for the minor to remain in custody. If the arrest occurs on a weekend or holiday, the probable cause hearing may be done by means of a telephone call between a member of the prosecutor’s office and a judge.

During the hearing, if the judge decides that probable cause does not exist (which is highly unlikely), the minor offender must be released from custody. On the contrary, if probable cause does exist, then the minor is kept in custody or released into supervisory custody, usually to his parents. The minor offender and his guardians must adhere to certain necessary conditions and return to court for further proceedings.

If probable cause is determined, then formal charges must be filed within 72 hours of the child’s arrest. If formal charges are not filed during that window, then the youth must be released unconditionally.

There are cases where the minor defendant is not arrested, but still may be notified to appear in court by mail or summons. The youth must appear at the assigned time and date, with his parents or guardians. Notice of the formal charge will be included in the letter or summons.

It’s important to note that no minor can be brought before a judge in restraints, unless previously stated by the court.

What Charges Could Be Filed Against My Child and How Severe Could They Be?

The charges against your child can vary immensely both in scope and severity. A 1st degree assault charge where the victim is permanently injured or deformed can result in severe penalties, and even cause your child to be tried as an adult. If your child is 16 years or older, a court hearing is mandatory in order to determine if the minor should be charged as an adult. This, of course, is the worst possible outcome for you and your child.

As the charges decrease in severity, so do the penalties. In this example, assault (which is a common charge with minors) is being used as an example, but many other charges such as robbery, armed robbery, assault with a weapon, etc., can be charged and prosecuted. The charges essentially are the same as for an adult, but how they are prosecuted will differ.

One of the major things you and your juvenile defense attorney want to avoid is your child being charged as an adult. If your child is charged with assault that resulted in a serious injury (or death), if a weapon was used, or your child has a prior criminal history, you can be almost sure that the courts will discuss trying them as an adult.

Do not take any charge lightly. Retain a juvenile defense lawyer immediately so you and your child get the best advice at the very beginning of the process. By doing so, you can assure the best possible outcome for you, your child, and your family.