Judge confronts a teenager
The jurisdiction hearings are broken down into three phases: an initial arraignment, pre-trial and the court trial.
If the juvenile has not been previously detained, and the District Attorney has determined to proceed with the prosecution, the minor will be mailed a Notice of Hearing requiring the minor to appear in his or her first Juvenile Court. At the arraignment hearing, the court will review the following:
- Advise the juvenile of his or her rights
- Read the charges filed against the juvenile
- Appoint an attorney to represent the juvenile (usually a Deputy Public Defender).
Prior to the trial in Juvenile Court, the judge, District Attorney and the defense attorney convene in the pre-trial to negotiate a settlement. At the pre-trial, the probation officer's report has been prepared which contains the officer's recommendations for sentencing the juvenile. This settlement is an agreement between the District Attorney and the defense attorney, usually for a lesser sentence in exchange for a "guilty plea." This is referred to as a "plea bargain." If the juvenile and his attorney agree to the settlement, there will be no court trial. The judge will likely impose a disposition (sentence) in the case at that time.
Teenager questioned by the District Attorney
Within 14 days of the arraignment (excluding weekends and holidays), the court trial must begin for in-custody juvenile cases. Out-of-custody juveniles have a right to a trial within 30 court days of the date their petitions were filed.
The trial in Juvenile Court is conducted in a similar manner as an adult trial with a few important exceptions. First, juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial. The judge alone makes the determination as to whether the juvenile has or has not committed the crime. All laws of evidence and constitutional rights afforded an adult are in effect for juveniles in Juvenile Court. Proof of guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty.
Secondly, unlike adult trials which are open to the public, juvenile cases are normally closed to the public for the protection of the minor. The Legislature has determined in most instances that the privacy of the juvenile should be protected so that mistakes made as a minor do not label a youth as a criminal in adult life.
During the trial, the prosecutor must bring witnesses to court and have them testify (answer questions) under oath in support of prosecution's claim of guilt against the accused juvenile. The juvenile's attorney has the right to cross-examine the prosecutor's witnesses. The defense attorney can subpoena witnesses or evidence to court on behalf of the accused juvenile. At the trial, the accused juvenile has the option to testify on his own behalf or remain silent. If the judge finds reasonable doubt, the charges are dismissed. If not, the judge will make a true finding and the case typically proceeds to a disposition hearing.
Juveniles Transferred to Adult Criminal System
The District Attorney under certain circumstances may request the Juvenile Court to transfer a case to the adult criminal system, even though the crime was committed by a minor. Several factors are considered prior to transferring a case such as the age of the minor, the nature of the crime committed and the degree of criminal sophistication shown by the juvenile. To be "tried as an adult," a minor must be at least 16 years old at the time of the criminal offense or, in certain cases, could be as young as 14. If the crime is of a violent or dangerous nature, the minor can be deemed as not suitable for Juvenile Court. These crimes include: murder, robbery, sex offenses committed by force, and assault with a firearm.
If a minor is certified to be tried as an adult, the case is transferred to the adult criminal system. Proceedings are open to the public and the trial is by jury instead of by the judge without a jury. If convicted, the minor may be sent to jail or prison along with other adult offenders.