While it’s true that juvenile court often carries lighter sentences, juvenile charges and sentences may still have lasting, damaging effects. Many minors are eligible to have their juvenile records destroyed when they turn 18, but there are plenty of cases where a criminal record follows a child into adulthood.
The good news is that the Arizona juvenile court system does a good job at focusing on rehabilitation over punishment, especially when you have an experienced attorney in your corner fighting for the best possible outcome.
What is a Delinquent Offender?
The terms “delinquent offender” and “juvenile delinquent” are legal terms used to describe minors who break the law.
Both of these terms may be used interchangeably when referring to a defendant who is under the age of 18. Special terms like these are often used to establish the difference between criminal proceedings for minors and adults.
These aren’t the only unique terms you’ll come across in juvenile court. Crimes are referred to as “delinquent acts,” sentencing is called “disposition,” and when convicted the juvenile will be “found delinquent” rather than found guilty.
Juvenile trials are called Adjudication Hearings, and incarceration is referred to as detention.
Why does the system use special terminology for minors? Because juvenile court is actually more akin to civil court than criminal court.
The primary motivation in juvenile cases is usually to rehabilitate the minor to avoid committing crimes as an adult, so the courts use softer terminology to avoid negatively impacting minors.
That’s not to say you can’t get in serious trouble in juvenile court.
Judges are often more lenient in juvenile court and some juvenile offenses don’t even qualify as crimes, but a juvenile can still face serious misdemeanors and felonies. In serious cases, a juvenile may even be transferred to criminal court to be tried and sentenced as an adult.
Legally referred to as “incorrigible acts” in Arizona, a juvenile offense is an offense that wouldn’t normally be considered a crime in adult criminal court. In other words, an adult who does the same thing wouldn’t actually be breaking the law.
For example, alcohol possession and consumption are illegal for minors, but it’s perfectly legal for an adult who is 21 or older to buy and consume alcohol. The same goes for breaking curfew and truancy, the continued failure to attend school.
These offenses are not misdemeanors or felonies, so they carry much lighter dispositions.
Juvenile Misdemeanor Charges
While the general terminology in juvenile court may be different, juveniles can still face misdemeanor charges for violating Arizona Statutes. Some of the most common misdemeanor charges for juveniles include:
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Drug possession
- Impaired driving
- Indecent exposure
- Shoplifting (retail theft)
- Petty theft
- Possessing or using a fake ID
- Public intoxication
- Unruly conduct
Misdemeanors carry lighter dispositions such as fines, community service, mandatory course completion, and probation. Detention is possible, especially for repeat offenders.
Juvenile Felony Charges
Felony charges are extremely serious. Not only do they carry serious repercussions in juvenile court, they may risk transferring the case to criminal court so that the minor can be tried as an adult.
Under ARS 13-501, county prosecutors are required to bring a criminal (adult) prosecution for minors age 15-17 for the following offenses:
- First degree murder
- Second degree murder
- Forcible sexual assault
- Armed robbery
- Violent felony offenses
- Felony offenses committed by a chronic felony offender
County prosecutors also have the discretion to try a juvenile who is 14 or older as an adult in criminal court for any class 1-2 felonies, select class 3 felonies, and class 4-6 felonies that involve a dangerous offense.
Sentencing in criminal court is far more severe than dispositions in juvenile court, so you’ll want an experienced attorney in your child’s corner to ensure their felony case remains in juvenile court.
Sentencing (Disposition) for Juvenile Cases
There are a variety of options at the judge’s disposal when it comes to the sentencing in a juvenile case. As the ultimate goal is rehabilitation, non-incarceration options are generally the first choice. Some common non-incarceration dispositions include:
The lightest disposition, this is simply a verbal reprimand that hopefully is stern enough to avoid future incidents.
Fines are common in juvenile cases, whether it involves paying compensation to the victim or an actual fine to the government. Note that the minor’s parents are required to enforce fines, so if the minor doesn’t have a job or cannot afford the fine, responsibility for paying falls to the parents.
Judges often require some type of counseling or therapy as part of a disposition order in the hopes that professional help will preclude future criminal activity.
Another common factor in juvenile dispositions, community service orders require dedicating a certain number of hours to serving the local community. Sometimes the court dictates the service organization, though the juvenile is usually allowed to propose one.
Note that there’s always a timeline attached to community service orders, so you’ll have to complete the required hours in a certain amount of time. Failure to complete the full requirement will lead to the juvenile back in front of the judge for possibly harsher sentencing.
This is often accompanied by a house arrest order, as a wrist or ankle bracelet verifies the juvenile’s location at all times.
Any supervised program where the juvenile’s freedom is limited and activities are restricted. This is by far the most popular choice of penalty in a juvenile case, accounting for well over half of all juvenile cases.
Incarceration Sentences for Juveniles
Unfortunately, non-incarceration options aren’t the only penalties on the menu in juvenile court. Judges shy away from incarceration as much as possible, but the court must balance its goal to rehabilitate the juvenile with its duty to protect the local community.
In some cases, incarceration may even be included in a disposition for the juvenile’s protection, to get them away from poor influences in their lives. Examples of incarceration sentences in a juvenile case include:
Also referred to as home confinement, a house arrest order forces a juvenile to remain at home with limited exceptions to travel to work, school, counseling, etc.
When the judge is concerned that the juvenile’s current living situation has contributed to their delinquency or may lead to problems down the road, the judge can require the juvenile move in with a relative. When that’s not possible, the juvenile may have to live with a foster home or group home for a period of time.
Juvenile Detention Facilities
Casually referred to as Juvenile Hall, these detention facilities are intended for short term stays.
Secured Juvenile Facilities
Sometimes called Juvenile Camps, these facilities are intended for long term stays of months or years.
Unfortunately, sending a juvenile to county jail or state prison is on the table in serious felony cases.
Receive Help From an Arizona Juvenile Defense Attorney
If your child has committed a crime in the greater Phoenix area, it’s vital to contact an attorney immediately, preferably before your child is questioned by police.
A good attorney will ensure your child’s rights are protected throughout the process, advocating for a solution that satisfies justice while limiting the negative impact on your child’s future.