Juvenile Case Process
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With the exception of certain traffic, alcohol, tobacco, and watercraft violations, persons under the age of 18 years who violate any federal, state, local law or municipal ordinance are processed under the Juvenile Corrections Act. Juvenile cases are customarily handled in the magistrate division of the district court.
As a rule, neither the juvenile court nor any of its officers are allowed to initiate action to bring a juvenile before the court. Usually such action begins with law enforcement. When an officer believes that a juvenile has broken the law, he or she files a report concerning the alleged offense. If further action is desirable, a report requesting that a petition be filed with the juvenile court is submitted to the prosecuting attorney.
The prosecuting attorney reviews the case and determines if there is sufficient evidence to bring the matter before the juvenile court. If the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence, the petition is filed with the court.
A petition is the formal document that sets forth the specific act with which the juvenile is charged. Unless such a petition is filed, the juvenile may not be brought before the court, except to be released from detention.
Once a petition has been filed, a probation officer conducts an interview with the juvenile and with one or both of the parents or legal guardian. This interview advises the juvenile and his or her parents of the content of the petition and advises all parties of their constitutional rights. It is also used to obtain as much information as possible to aid the court in making the most fair and helpful decision in the event that the juvenile is found within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act. The probation officer tries to answer questions that the juvenile or parent has about the court process and sets the time and date for the initial court hearing.
If the probation officer concludes that formal court action would not serve the best interests of the juvenile or the public, he or she may recommend to the court that the case be dismissed or that the juvenile diverted into a community program such as a youth court. The judge may accept or reject the recommendation.
Present at the court hearings are the judge, the in-court clerk, a probation officer, the juvenile, his or her parents, and attorneys if desired. Other persons may attend if the court opens the proceedings pursuant to court rules. Typically, such persons as school counselors and police officers may attend.
At the start of the court hearing, the judge reviews the petition to determine if the juvenile and his or her parents understand the charge. If copies of the petitions have not been served, they are delivered to the juvenile and his or her parents at the hearing.
Before the facts of the petition are discussed, the judge reviews the constitutional and legal rights of all parties. The court then determines whether or not the facts as contained in the petition are true. If the juvenile denies the charge, the case is set for hearing.
If the court finds the juvenile within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act at the conclusion of the hearing or by the juvenile's own admission, the court proceeds to make disposition.
The court has a number of alternatives in making disposition. Briefly, they are:
- dismissing the case after counseling by the judge or probation officer;
- continuing the case for a specific action (such as paying restitution) to be completed by the juvenile and then dismissing the charges;
- completing short- or long-term counseling;
- referring the defendant for psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment;
- completing probation in which the child is allowed to remain at home, subject to supervision by the court; or commitment to a juvenile detention facility for a period of 30 days or less; or referral of the child and/or his or her family to another community agency;
- committing the juvenile to the Department of Juvenile Corrections which could place the juvenile at the Juvenile Corrections Center or, in some cases, the State Mental Hospital.
In felony or more serious misdemeanor cases the court may transfer the case to the district court to be processed under adult criminal law. Under Idaho Code, the juvenile must be at least 14 years of age to be tried as an adult.
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It should be noted that the grand jury system is a mechanism for bringing a serious criminal matter to the district court. A grand jury is a panel of citizens called together to hear evidence and determine if criminal charges should be initiated.
Grand jury proceedings are private and secret, prospective defendants are not entitled to be present at the proceedings, and no one is allowed to cross-examine witnesses on the defendant's behalf. Information presented to the grand jury is presented by prosecuting attorneys.
The grand jury has broad investigative powers and may compel the attendance of witnesses or compel answers to questions and submission of records. If the grand jury determines that criminal proceedings should be initiated, it returns what is called an indictment. Based on this indictment, the court causes either a summons or an arrest warrant to be issued. The individual then appears before the district court to answer the charges and enter a plea at an arraignment. Effectively, the grand jury process eliminates the necessity for the preliminary hearing and any proceedings in the magistrate division.