In every county of Alabama, you will find a juvenile court.
The vast majority of those under the age of 18 who are accused of a crime will have their case handled by the juvenile system. There are exceptions, of course, for certain felony crimes, but our goal as Birmingham criminal defense lawyers is to keep cases involving juveniles within the juvenile system.
The main reason for this is simple: It will generally mean less risk of extensive incarceration. This is because the goal of the adult versus juvenile justice systems is very different. With adults, the goal is punishment. With juveniles, it's rehabilitation.
The general theory is that the younger the offender is, the more likely he or she is amenable to being redirected and ultimately becoming a productive member of society.
A juvenile delinquent is defined as a child under the age of 18 who has committed some offense that, were the individual an adult, would be considered a crime.
There are some cases that, even if the offender is under the age of 18, the juvenile court system won't hear. Those include:
- All traffic offenses (except DUI);
- Capital offenses;
- Class A felonies;
- Felonies involving deadly weapons;
- Felonies resulting in death or serious physical injury;
- Felonies involving dangerous instruments used against certain persons or officials;
- Trafficking in drugs.
The U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out the possibility of a death sentence for minors convicted of any crime, even if he or she is tried in adult court. Mandatory life sentences are also barred, though they might still be imposed at the discretion of the judge, depending on the severity of the crime.
However, those represent a very small percentage of cases. The vast majority of serious juvenile offenses are property crimes. Juvenile arrest data for Alabama in 2012 indicates that there were:
- 20 arrests for homicide;
- 19 arrests for rape;
- 162 arrests for robbery;
- 235 arrests for assault;
- 557 arrests for burglary;
- 1,971 arrests for larceny;
- 71 arrests for motor vehicle thefts;
- 15 arrests for arson.
In all, juveniles account for 10 percent of Part I arrests in the state annually. Those are the offenses listed above.
However, they make up about 4 percent of Part II arrests statewide. These include forgery, fraud, embezzlement, stolen property, vandalism, weapons, prostitution, sex offenses, drug offenses, gambling, family offenses, DUI, liquor laws, disorderly conduct, vagrancy and other crimes. In all, more than 5,700 juveniles were arrested for these kinds of offenses in 2012.
Anytime a child is detained for any offense, the court must hold a hearing within 72 hours, at which time the judge will decide whether the minor should remain in state custody or be released to a parent or guardian.
Some juvenile cases can be over quite swiftly with what is known as an informal adjustment. This is when the parents, in council with the judge, intake officer or other appropriate persons, decide to essentially drop the case in exchange for the juvenile accepting certain conditions of release. These might include counseling, community service and maybe even placement outside the home at a rehabilitative facility for up to six months.
However, cases that go to trial will be heard before a judge (no jury). If the judge fines the juvenile to be delinquent (similar to guilty), he or she might impose fines, restitution, community service, probation, official monitoring or possibly even commitment for a time to the Department of Youth Services.
A youth who is determined to be a serious juvenile offender – usually in cases where the alleged actions involved serious physical injury, a felony involving physical force or the use of a deadly weapon – he or she will be held in a detention center for at least one year. At the end of that time, the sentence will be reviewed.
Throughout every stage of this process – from arrest to adjudication to review – you and your teen have the right to legal representation. We can help.