Some Questions About Juvenile Law for and About Juveniles
What is the purpose of a juvenile court?
In Colorado the juvenile courts were established to provide for the special needs of children in the justice system. A Colorado Children’s Code was written with the purpose of creating a system of juvenile justice that will appropriately sanction or correct juveniles who violate the law.
Who is a juvenile delinquent?
A juvenile delinquent is anyone 10 through 17 who commits a federal or state crime, violates certain county or municipal ordinances, or disregards or refuses to comply with court orders issued under the Colorado Children’s Code.
What happens to delinquent children?
The juvenile court judge or magistrate will consider many factors in sentencing a juvenile delinquent. For example, the judge will consider the severity of the offense; the juvenile’s physical, emotional, or educational needs; the family or community resources available; the juvenile’s prior record; and the impact the offense has on the victim and the community in which the juvenile lives.
1. After a full review of the circumstances, the judge may decide on one of the following as a legal consequence:
- Pay a fine up to $300 plus a 37 percent surcharge.
- Serve up to 45 days in detention.
- Perform community service as set by the court.
- Refrain from associating with certain friends or being involved with gangs or others who are on probation or charged with criminal conduct.
- Repay the victims within a period of time set by the court.
- Follow a curfew set by the court.
- Wear an ankle monitor for a specified period of time.
- Be evaluated psychologically and/or for drugs and alcohol.
- Enroll in a drug- or alcohol-treatment or counseling program with random drug testing.
- Perform up to one’s ability in school and maintain a certain grade point average.
- Lose driving privileges until more responsibility is shown.
- Comply with other orders the court believes would assist the juvenile in staying out of trouble.
2. The juvenile may be ordered out of his home for a specified period of time. This may mean residing in a foster home, group home, or a locked facility at the Division of Youth Corrections.
3. The juvenile may also, if approved by the court, choose to attend the drug court to specifically address addiction and heavy usage.
4. The juvenile could also be prosecuted in the adult court under certain circumstances.
Did the law change in 1997 regarding how juveniles are handled by the courts?
Yes. There have been a number of changes that may effect the consequences facing young people charged with criminal or delinquent offenses.
Not too many years ago, with few exceptions, all juveniles charged with a crime were charged in the juvenile court. With the increase of illegal gang activity and violent behavior, the lawmakers have taken a “get-tough” attitude toward juveniles who commit serious crimes and who have not responded to previous court orders.
The most significant changes involve the limiting of juvenile jury trials and the increased ease with which a person under 18 can be prosecuted as an adult.
A juvenile may be prosecuted as an adult if:
- The juvenile is 14 years of age or older and commits any crime that carries a penalty of 8-24 years or life in prison (categorized as class 1 or 2 felonies). Some of the crimes that fall into this category are: first- and second-degree murder; kidnapping a sexual-assault or robbery victim; some sexual assaults; and burglary of drugs.
- The juvenile is 14 years of age or older and commits any felony crime of violence or a felony involving any dangerous, deadly or illegal weapon. There are some minor exceptions. These crimes include those juveniles using weapons to threaten or assault someone. For example, if a juvenile points a gun or knife at a person with intent to scare that person, charges could be filed in the adult court.
- A juvenile who commits vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, or a serious arson.
- Any juvenile, 16 years of age or older, who within the past two years has been found to be delinquent on a felony offense, and now commits a class 3 felony such as:
- Robbery involving a weapon.
- House burglary.
- Some sexual assaults.
- Some deadly weapon assaults.
- Some arsons.
- Thefts or crimes involving damage or loss over $15,000.
- Other less-common, serious offenses.
A juvenile who attempts, conspires, or aids and abets any of the crimes named above may also be prosecuted as an adult.
In addition, the 1997 revised Colorado Children’s Code gives law enforcement officers more latitude in the interrogation of juveniles. The new code also adds new parental-responsibility provisions.
Other than delinquency, are there other laws that have an effect on the treatment of juveniles in court?
Besides the School Attendance Law of 1963, there are dependency and neglect laws that significantly affect juveniles and parents. These laws generally address abuse, neglect, parental control issues, and running away.
What can happen to me if I run away?
Since your parents are responsible for your health and safety, they may report you to a law enforcement agency. If the police find you, they will contact your parents, take you home, or report the case to the Colorado Department of Human Services, which may begin an investigation of your home situation.
If I am a runaway, can the people I stay with get into trouble?
Possibly, depending on the circumstances.
It is against the law for anyone to secretly provide a place for you to stay while running away. The people you are staying with must contact a law enforcement officer or your parents, legal guardian, or legal custodian within 24 hours.
What can happen if I refuse to obey my parents, but I am not committing any crimes?
This behavior usually comes to the attention of others because you are running away, violating curfews, or just making the life of your parents and people around you miserable.
There are many scenarios that may indicate you are “out of control,” and each one may require a different response by parents or the courts. Generally, counseling and parenting programs should be considered before calling on government resources, because once the justice system is involved, the parent might not always be able to direct the course of events. In such cases, parents may be required to follow what the court deems as most appropriate and pay the costs of services ordered.
Examples that may cause the court to intervene:
- Running away: Police should be called. Counseling should begin to address the family’s concerns when the child is returned. The courts may be involved if a dependency and neglect action is filed. This action will address placement and living options for the child, counseling alternatives, and other control measures.
- Beyond the control of a parent, guardian, or legal custodian: This occurs when the child refuses to follow any rules or regulations that the family has set, and the parent or guardian is no longer able to protect or direct the child. This child also can be declared neglected or dependent through an action brought by the Colorado Department of Human Services. If this occurs, the court–not necessarily the parents–will determine what is needed to bring the child back under control.
- Refusal to go to school: School attendance laws are charged and enforced when other efforts fail.
- Drinking and drug abuse: These are crimes, and very likely will result in adult or juvenile court proceedings.
- Refusal to follow the court orders: If a juvenile refuses to follow the court’s orders issued under the Colorado Children’s Code, the court may find him in contempt, or the district attorney may file a delinquency charge against him. If a delinquency petition is filed, the court has all the previously discussed sentencing options available to it. If the juvenile is found in contempt of court, the judge can impose fines, detention, community service, or any other sanction the court decides will resolve the problem.
What if I feel that I am being abused or neglected at home or elsewhere?
If you are running from abusive or neglectful situations, you should talk to a police officer who handles abuse and neglect cases or someone from the Colorado Department of Human Services. Professionals who specialize in this area take these allegations very seriously. These professionals can help you and your family properly assess whether your situation is in fact abusive or neglectful.
What is abuse or neglect?
Generally, abuse or neglect occurs when a child’s health or welfare is threatened because of what someone does or does not do. Examples are:
- Injuries that are inconsistent with the reasons given for their occurrence.
- Living conditions that are injurious to the child’s health or the child is homeless.
- Sexual abuse or molestation of any kind.
- Parents or guardians who fail to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care or supervision.
- A child who is a runaway or otherwise beyond the control of the parents.
Do I have the same rights as adults if I am arrested?
Yes. However you are also responsible for your behavior.
These rights include the right to remain silent, stop talking to an interrogating police officer at any time, and request the presence of a lawyer. Juveniles have the additional right, under most circumstances, to have parents or a parental representative with them when questioned.
Must my parents always be present when the police talk to me?
Any law enforcement officer can talk to you with or without your parents or an adult present. You may be questioned about a crime as the person suspected or as a witness without anyone other than you and the officer present. The only time an officer must have your parent or a responsible adult present is if the officer has you in custody and is questioning you about a crime in which you may have been involved. This is called “custodial interrogation.” If there is custodial interrogation taking place without an advisement of your rights and without the proper adult present, the officer cannot use what you say against you. Your case is not necessarily going to be dismissed or thrown out of court as a result of you being questioned without a proper advisement. The officer may have enough information to charge you, apart from your statement. The officer may decide to question you just to get your version of what happened.
As in adult court, any delinquency case brought against a juvenile must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Do I have any special rights or protections in court?
An adjudication of delinquency is not the same as a criminal conviction. However, adult courts can use past juvenile acts and adjudications when considering their sentence. Juvenile court hearings are open to anyone, but unless the charge is a class 4 felony or greater, arrest and criminal records information is not available to the general public without a court order. If the delinquent act is a crime of violence, the information will be made available to the public and sent to your school district. Unlike adult records, there is a record-sealing process called expungement. Expungement is not automatic at age 18. Different crimes have different waiting periods, and you must apply to the court to have your records expunged.
The waiting period to expunge a delinquency record may run from 4 to 10 years. If there are aggravating circumstances surrounding the juvenile’s crime, such as a crime of violence, the juvenile may never be able to get his record expunged.
Persons who have had their juvenile records expunged or sealed may lawfully and properly reply that no such record exists. However, the record is still available to the district attorney, law enforcement, the courts, and the department of human services. After an order of expungement has been entered, effected government agencies cannot thereafter show your records to anyone else without an order from the court.