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Brief Introduction


   Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code.

   The federal role in the field has largely been that of funder and standard setter. Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. This was later revised in 1972, and renamed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act defines juvenile delinquency (any act that is otherwise a crime, but is committed by someone under 18 years of age) and sets forth rules by which state laws must comply with regard to juvenile court procedures and punishments.

   When a juvenile is accused of a crime, the criminal process is very different. The juvenile crime is called an act of "delinquency" and requires juvenile court intervention to correct the delinquency. Juvenile courts have their own special rules and procedures. Depending on the jurisdiction, juvenile courts handle cases involving children between the ages of 10 and 18. However, in cases of violent felonies such as murder, kidnapping, arson and rape, the state may choose to try the juvenile as an adult. In most jurisdictions, the decision to try the juvenile as an adult will depend on the judge's discretion.

   Since a judge, not a jury, will determine the fate of a juvenile defendant, it is common for the court to favor "rehabilitation" over "punishment." The jurisdictions vary widely on the quality and types of rehabilitation offered. The choice of options range from incarceration to participation in community service activities. If incarceration is chosen, the juvenile, in most cases, must be released no later than his or her eighteenth birthday.

   Juvenile rights are different from adult rights. For example, juveniles do not have a right to a jury trial. Nor in many cases do they have a right to a public court proceeding. Notwithstanding, juveniles are entitled to have a full notice of all charges against them, the right to a fair hearing, and the right to confront hostile witnesses.

   It is important that you choose a juvenile crimes lawyer who is experienced in juvenile law. Not only are the rules and procedures different from adult court, but defense strategies in these cases require special consideration that is unique to juvenile law.

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