Arizona law provides for a simplified juvenile court system that often delivers less severe sentences than adult criminal court. While it’s a little easier to navigate than criminal court, it doesn’t absolve the overwhelming feelings of fear and confusion felt by juvenile defendants and their parents.

The actual process may vary slightly between different counties in Arizona, but the juvenile court process generally involves the following phases:

  • Consultation
  • Advisory Hearing
  • Adjudication
  • Disposition

The Advisory Hearing is often the quickest part of the juvenile court process. In this brief initial court appearance, the juvenile defendant will enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). The judge will advise the juvenile of their rights, discuss potential consequences, and determine whether the defendant will be released or detained until the next hearing.

An Overview of the Juvenile Court Process

While juvenile court proceedings are subject to Arizona state law, the intricacies of the actual process is ultimately up to the county courts. That said, while minor things like fees, deadlines, and forms may vary, the overall process is largely the same.

Here’s a quick overview of what to expect during the four primary phases of juvenile court cases in Arizona.

Consultation

This isn’t a formal step in the court process, but it’s a critical step for juvenile defendants and their parents. You should always work with an attorney for criminal cases, whether it’s the public defender assigned to your case or a private attorney.

In addition to answering your questions and formulating a legal strategy, your attorney may reach out to the prosecutor to talk about dropping the charges or reaching a plea agreement. It’s important to do this before the Advisory Hearing, because a plea agreement will hinge on the juvenile defendant pleading guilty, so that’s off the table as soon as you plead not guilty.

Advisory Hearing

After consulting with an attorney, the juvenile and his or her attorney will appear in court for the Advisory Hearing. The main point of this hearing is to admit or deny the charges, and if a trial is necessary, determine whether the juvenile will be released or detained until the next hearing.

First, the judge will ask all parties to state their name. The judge will verify the juvenile defendant’s personal information, then ask if the juvenile wishes to waive a formal reading of the charges, a summary of their constitutional rights, and sentencing alternatives.

Keep in mind that for these and most other questions, the attorney will speak on behalf of the juvenile defendant.

Once the formalities are concluded, the judge will ask if the juvenile defendant admits to or denies the charges against them.

If the juvenile denies the charges, the judge will schedule an Adjudication Hearing, which is the juvenile court equivalent to a criminal trial.

The judge will then determine whether the juvenile defendant should be released to live with their parents until the next hearing, or detained in order to protect the community and prevent the juvenile from running. Before making a decision, the judge will listen to statements from the juvenile, his or her parents, their attorney, and the prosecuting attorney.

If the juvenile admits to some or all charges, the judge will explain their constitutional rights and sentencing options. The juvenile defendant must then tell the judge what they did to be guilty of the charge.

In this scenario, the process will skip directly to the Disposition (sentencing) Hearing. The Disposition Hearing may take place immediately following the Advisory Hearing, or it may be scheduled for another date.

Adjudication

When a trial is necessary, the court will schedule an Adjudication Hearing to assess the evidence, hear witness testimony, and provide each side the chance to present their case for or against a guilty verdict. There are no jury trials in juvenile court, so the judge will ultimately make the decision.

At the conclusion of the Adjudication Hearing, the judge will issue a judgement. If the prosecutor successfully proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile is guilty, the judge will declare the juvenile guilty and schedule a Disposition Hearing. If the juvenile defendant is found to be innocent, the judge will conclude the case with a not-guilty verdict.

Disposition

When a juvenile defendant admits to a crime or is found guilty after adjudication, the judge will sentence the juvenile in a Disposition Hearing.

In juvenile cases, a probation officer is often asked to gather information about the juvenile and their family, and deliver a report to the court that recommends suitable punishment. During the Disposition Hearing, all interested parties — the juvenile defendant, their parents, their attorney, the prosecutor, and possibly even the victim — may argue for or against the recommended punishments.

Penalties for Juvenile Delinquents

Juvenile court seeks to balance the need to protect the community with a desire to rehabilitate delinquent children to avoid a lifetime of crime. In most juvenile cases, the punishment is often limited to community service, educational classes, fines, and probation.

In serious cases, a delinquent juvenile may be committed to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections until they turn 18.

FAQs About the Juvenile Court Process

What is a Pre-Adjudication Hearing?

In some cases, your attorney may schedule a Pre-Adjudication Hearing with the court in order to file a motion or speak with the judge. The juvenile defendant usually won’t need to attend this hearing.

What is the Difference Between a Hearing and Court?

Adults are tried in criminal court, while juveniles are tried in juvenile court. Both take place in an actual courtroom, and both require hearings where the defendant and attorneys appear before the judge.

It’s a minor difference in semantics, but criminal cases go to trial, and juvenile cases go to adjudication. Either way, it’s safe to say that when people say they’re “going to court” they’re appearing at a hearing, whether it’s a trial hearing for adults or adjudication hearing for juveniles.

What to Do if You’re Facing Juvenile Charges

Before attending the Advisory Hearing, the juvenile and their parents should meet with an experienced criminal law attorney, preferably one who specializes in juvenile cases. Juvenile court is different than criminal court, so you’ll want to retain the services of a lawyer who understands how to navigate the juvenile court process to obtain the best possible result.

Once you hire an attorney to represent your child, the attorney will determine the best strategy. That may involve fighting the charges and proving the juvenile’s innocence, or seeking a plea agreement with the prosecutor to minimize the legal consequences.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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