Crime is in the news lately. But as they say in the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.” – so whether crime rates are up or down, crime is always in the news. Among the crime reports are those in which the accused is a minor, so the reports note whether the accused will be tried as an adult or a minor. But what does that question really mean?
If the minor is tried as an adult, the trial will be in a regular criminal court, and neither the process nor the result will take the accused’s age into account. The age at which the accused is no longer a minor varies from state to state, but is usually 17 or 18. For the most serious crimes – especially for murder – a minor may be tried in adult criminal court. State statutes generally set the criteria by which a case with a minor defendant may be transferred to adult criminal court, although prosecutors usually have some discretion. But for most criminal charges, if the accused is under that age, the trial will be in Juvenile Court.
“Juvenile Court” does not always mean a special “juvenile court judge” in a separate “juvenile” courtroom. Juvenile Court may be a constitutionally-created court, or it may be an ad-hoc division of the local circuit, district, or county court – whichever court usually handles criminal cases. Regardless of the way the Juvenile Court is created and administered, its functions differ in some significant ways from the general criminal court system.
Of course there are similarities, mostly based on due process of law: juvenile defendants facing possible incarceration are entitled to a lawyer, they are not required to incriminate themselves, and the normal rules of evidence apply. But Juvenile Court proceedings are not always adversarial; social workers, parents, and other parties from outside the formal court system may work with the court to develop a course of action designed to steer the juvenile away from a life of crime, instead of into prison.
That doesn’t mean that defendants in Juvenile Court don’t go to jail (or to “juvy” or to “reform school”); many do. Juvenile Court doesn’t always mean “juvenile diversion” (see our January 2009 post diversion programs). Nor does it mean a Teen Court of the juvenile’s peers, the subject last month’s post; Juvenile Court has an adult judge and prosecutor. Still, diversion or other forms of non-retributive justice are more common in Juvenile Court than in adult criminal court.
Juvenile Court may also handle cases in which the juvenile is not accused of a crime, such as dependency cases. Juvenile “delinquency” means the minor has committed a crime. Juvenile “dependency” means the minor’s parents have neglected or lost control of the juvenile, and the court must consider transferring care of the juvenile to a foster home or a person who is not the biological parent.
Some court systems may only have dedicated Juvenile Courts in certain areas, usually those with larger populations. In Louisiana, Juvenile Courts exist in Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, and Orleans Parishes; juvenile cases in other parishes are heard in District or City Courts. In Calcasieu Parish, for example, juvenile cases are heard in two of the nine divisions of District Court. Nebraska, like Louisiana, has dedicated Juvenile Courts in only a few counties.
New York does not have separate Juvenile Courts, but it does have Family Courts that handle juvenile cases as well as other types of family cases such as divorce, custody, support, paternity, and guardianship. In California, some county Superior Courts have dedicated juvenile divisions. Los Angeles Superior Court has several dedicated juvenile courthouses; much smaller Calaveras County has a single Superior Court location and judge, with multiple divisions including Juvenile. In Indiana, juvenile cases may be heard in Circuit Court or Superior Court, depending on the county.
Georgia has a dedicated Juvenile Court in each county, although they may share jurisdiction with Superior Courts in some counties, and they do not have jurisdiction over serious criminal cases. Mississippi’s juvenile courts are called Youth Courts; they exist in every county, but their judges come from County Courts or Chancery Courts.
To see if your state has dedicated Juvenile Courts or juvenile divisions of its criminal courts, to check the courts’ jurisdiction, or to find the court’s contact information, simply check CourtReference.
Tags: California · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Georgia · Indiana · Louisiana · Mississippi · Nebraska · New York
The American criminal justice system is not always all about determining guilt or innocence and then punishing the guilty. It recognizes that some “bad actors” can be deterred from embarking on a life of crime, and can be given a “second chance” through programs that don’t result in a criminal record. For examples, see our blog posts about Mental Illness Cases, Drug Courts, Veterans Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts, and Diversion. These “problem-solving” or “accountability” courts are not actual courts, but special programs that impose treatment, counseling, education, restitution, and community service in lieu of incarceration and a criminal record.
The juvenile justice system takes a special interest in keeping young offenders out of the criminal justice system. That’s because a juvenile or criminal record can make it difficult for them to turn their lives around, and incarceration can expose them to worse influences than they encounter among their age peers. Many courts have special Diversion Programs for juveniles. But because juveniles are a special case, their cases are most often handled not by specialized programs but by actual juvenile courts.
Traditional juvenile courts are a subject for their own blog post; here we examine courts that are staffed – jury, clerk, bailiff, prosecutor, and defense counsel – by the juvenile offender’s own age peers. Some Teen Courts even have a teen judge, although most place a local volunteer attorney or judge in that position. Teen Court members must attend training classes, and often pass a “bar exam” and be sworn in. We examined one such court in our post about Seattle’s Youth Traffic Court. Let’s take a look at some other Teen Courts – also known as Youth Courts – which handle more than just traffic cases.
Teen Courts operate on the “restorative justice” principle, in which the offender takes responsibility for his or her offense, makes amends to the victim and the community, and receives the assistance of the community in avoiding future offenses. As any parent can attest, teens tend to pay more attention to their age peers than to adults – including their parents. Teen Courts substitute an organized form of “peer pressure” for the traditional “do what the adults tell you” model. Not surprisingly, it works; recidivism rates for Teen Courts are significantly lower than those of traditional juvenile courts.
Teen Courts generally serve only first-time offenders charged with misdemeanors and infractions, such as minor theft, underage drinking, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and traffic tickets. Because the offender must accept responsibility, these courts operate as sentencing courts; the offender admits guilt, and the court decides the consequences – which may include restitution, community service, education, counseling, and serving on other Teen Court juries.
The Seattle Youth Traffic Court is not the only such court in Washington; take a look at Lake Forest Park Youth Court (limited to traffic cases) and the Island County and Whatcom County Teen Courts.
In Texas, some Teen Courts such as Killeen’s are limited to traffic cases, while others such as College Station’s and Texarkana’s handle more types of misdemeanors. Links to the many Texas Teen Courts may be found on CourtReference’s Texas Courts Guide; just scroll down the page and look for “Teen Court” links.
Other examples may be found in Anchorage, AK; Union County, OR; Santa Fe County, NM; Florida’s 4th, 6th, and 7th Judicial Circuits; Horseheads, NY; and Bureau County, IL. Be sure to check CourtReference’s guide for your state to find Teen Courts and Youth Courts in your own county or city.
Tags: Alaska · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Florida · Illinois · New Mexico · New York · Texas · Washington
Last month we discussed judges (Justices of the Peace and Magistrates) who are not required to have law degrees, and whose courts have jurisdiction over areas larger than a city or town. Judges of city, town, village, and other municipal courts in many states are also not required to have law degrees or be practicing lawyers. These judges only have geographical jurisdiction over their own municipality, and in many states their subject-matter jurisdiction is limited to violations of the municipality’s ordinances.
We reviewed New York’s Town Courts and Village Courts in a 2010 post; with over 1200 such courts, New York has the highest number of non-lawyer judges in the United States. Some New York town and village judges may be lawyers, especially in larger towns, but most are not. Note that the City Courts located in larger cities of New York are part of the unified state judiciary system, and their judges must also be lawyers.
New York is not alone; 31 other states have municipal courts, and in most states their judges are not required to have law degrees. Only Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, and New Jersey require all their municipal judges to be lawyers. In other states, state law may not require all municipal judges to be lawyers, but some of them must be. For example, Texas – with over 900 municipal courts – does not require its municipal judges may be lawyers. However, individual Texas municipalities may require their judges to be lawyers by ordinance or charter provisions. Other states in which municipal judges’ qualifications are set by local ordinance or charter include Arizona and Oregon.
In North Dakota and Washingon, municipal judges in larger cities must be lawyers, while those in smaller cities need not be. In Oklahoma, judges in larger cities must be lawyers; those in smaller cities must be too, unless no local lawyer is interested in the position – in which case the mayor may appoint a non-lawyer. In Wisconsin, municipal court judges must be lawyers only when they preside over a joint municipal court.
Municipal court judges in all states must obtain some type of orientation and training; the amount required varies from state to state. In South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, municipal judges who are lawyers do not have to attend as much training as their non-lawyer peers. In Georgia, most municipal judges must be lawyers, but non-lawyer judges who were on the bench as of June 30, 2011 may continue as long as they attend the same training classes as all other municipal judges.
Some local courts are called “Mayor’s Courts” but that doesn’t mean the mayor is automatically the judge too. In Louisiana, although the mayor is often the judge of Mayor’s Court, the mayor and board of aldermen will often appoint a magistrate to preside over court. While the mayor does not have to be a lawyer, an appointed magistrate must be a practicing lawyer. As we noted last month, magistrates in most states have jurisdiction over areas larger than a single municipality; Louisiana’s appointed magistrates’ jurisdiction, like mayors’, is limited to their municipality.
In Ohio, as in Louisiana, many municipalities have a Mayor’s Court, presided over by a mayor who does not have to be a lawyer. As in Louisiana, many mayors appoint someone to preside over their Mayor’s Court. Unlike Louisiana, the person appointed to preside over a Mayor’s Court in Ohio does not have to be a lawyer. Note that Ohio also has Municipal Courts, which sometimes have countywide jurisdiction, and whose judges must be practicing lawyers.
Delaware municipalities have Alderman’s Courts, and their presiding aldermen may or may not be required to be lawyers, depending on the provisions of the municipality’s charter. Wrapping up the list of municipal court judges who may also be local officials, municipal judges in Arkansas may be also be the non-lawyer mayor – but if the mayor decides to appoint a judge, that judge must be a lawyer.
Whether the judge of your municipal court is a lawyer or not should make no difference in the conduct of your case. The cases within their jurisdiction are usually violations of local ordinances – most often, traffic tickets – and don’t involve complicated questions of law. Decisions are most likely to turn on questions of fact, which don’t require legal training; after all, they are the questions juries must decide in other courts.
Whether your municipal judge is a lawyer or not, you can find the court’s contact information, as well as links to applicable online resources, at CourtReference.
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