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What happens when a child is accused of a crime?

When a child is accused of a crime, the child and their family may feel blindsided and unsure of what to do next. Being prepared for what lies ahead will help ensure a better outcome for the family and their child. The juvenile court process varies from state-to-state, but there are basic steps in the process that can be expected.

Juvenile court matters are typically brought to the court's attention when a police officer arrests a child for violating a statute. Parents or school officials may also refer a case involving a child to the court. The court intake officer will look into the case and see what the next step in the process should be. If the officer decides that no further steps are needed, the child may be referred to counselors or mental health services.

In some cases, the child will be referred to a social service agency. Juveniles may be detained in a correctional facility for more serious juvenile crimes pending resolution of the case. They can also be placed in a group home, foster home or shelter.

The officer may also determine that the case should be formally heard in juvenile court. For serious crimes such as rape or murder, the matter can be referred to the district attorney's office where they may decide to try the child as an adult. If not, the case will be heard in juvenile court. The juvenile court hearing is similar to that of an adult criminal hearing. The judge will then decide if the allegations have been proven. If they have, the child will be given a sentence. In many less severe cases, the child may be put on probation or be required to perform community service. In more serious situations, the child may be sent to a juvenile correctional facility.

Source: FindLaw, "What to Expect: Juvenile Court Chronology," accessed on Oct. 7, 2014

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