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Young Offenders and the Juvenile Justice System

Learning that a child has been arrested is a stressful event for any parent. Parents wonder how something like this could happen, whether a mistake occurred, what potential penalties their child faces, and how those penalties may affect their child's future.

The juvenile court system is a separate institution, dedicated to rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. The focus in juvenile court is why the juvenile committed the charged crime and how resources can be utilized to help the juvenile, as opposed to goals of punishment and retribution. While avenues exist in the adult criminal justice system to rehabilitate youthful offenders, these avenues can be one-time-use laws or available only for lower level crimes. In the adult criminal justice system, the potential penalties also tend to be more serious.

Considering these differences, it is beneficial for juvenile offenders to be tried in the juvenile court system, rather than as adults in the regular criminal justice system. The juvenile court system will likely be more sympathetic to the cause of the juvenile's misconduct, and seek to aid the juvenile in change rather than punish. This is not to say that a juvenile offender will always receive a light penalty: serious offenders can be imprisoned in juvenile detention centers.

In certain cases, juveniles are tried as an adult. This typically happens for more serious crimes, such as homicides, armed robbery, and criminal sexual conduct. Being charged as an adult can have catastrophic effects for the rest of the child's life. For example, consequences such as a criminal record have a greater impact during work or academic applications on young persons who have little to no previous work history. Exposure to the criminal justice system may also have an adverse effect on the mental health of the child.

To ensure the best outcome for a juvenile offender, it is important to seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney with experience in juvenile issues. An attorney can help to ensure that the case remains in juvenile court if there is question as to where the case will be heard, and can help to navigate the unique procedures and characteristics of juvenile court.

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