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Why Juvenile and Adult Justice Systems Differ

Juveniles can be arrested for the same crimes adults can be arrested for.

For example, in 2019, youth arrest rates in the U.S. for certain offenses were:

  • Property crimes: 119,790
  • Violent crimes: 44,010
  • Assault: 126,130

* Source: National Center for Juvenile Justice

If a person under 18 years of age is alleged to commit a crime, that case is likely be tried in juvenile court, as opposed to adult court. However, in some instances, juveniles can be tried as adults, which we’ll discuss later.

Although the fundamental processes are similar, the primary focus of each court is different. Juvenile courts are concerned with rehabilitating a child. While the adult justice system offers rehabilitative services, there is a greater emphasis on punishment and penalties to discourage future offenses.

The distinctions are predicated on child development. Youths who are trying to find their place in the world, process information differently than adults. Kids changing social dynamics can lead to antisocial behavior, acceptance-seeking, and acquiescence to peer pressure.

Youths are more likely to respond to rehabilitative efforts and change their behaviors. Thus, if a juvenile is found to have committed the alleged offense, intervention and treatments may decrease the likelihood of future criminal conduct.

Juvenile systems may also protect youth safety. A delinquent child may be placed in tailored facilities including community-based or residential placement or, for more severe cases, locked juvenile facilities or state training schools. Children are housed away from adult inmates.

What Is the Process of the Juvenile Justice System?

Despite different objectives and emphasis, the juvenile justice process is similar to the adult process. Essentially, both begin with determining whether the allegations against the accused are founded. Terminology is different but “found guilty” and “adjudicated delinquent” have similar meanings.

The process of the Iowa juvenile justice system involves a complaint being filed followed by intake. The case can be settled through an information adjustment (where the juvenile admits to the crime and agrees to certain conditions) or through an adjudication hearing. If the judge finds that the juvenile committed the crime, they will determine what measures are necessary to rehabilitate the youth and prevent further misconduct.

What Punishments Can Be Levied in a Juvenile Case?

When a juvenile court judge decides allegations against the youth are founded, they must then decide how to address the violation. The judge must balance the focus on rehabilitation with the need to protect society.

Possible disposition in a youth's case may include,:

  • Completion of specific programs including residential programs
  • Community-based tracking
  • Probation
  • Placement in foster care
  • Placement with a guardian other than the child's biological parents
  • Placement in a treatment facility
  • Placement in a state institution
  • Specific education requirements
  • Specific community service requirements

What Rights Do Juveniles Have?

Youths have various rights. It wasn't until the late 1960s that many protections were solidified. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court decided In re Gault that juveniles must still be afforded due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Youths, therefore, have the right to:

  • Be aware of the charges against them,
  • Be represented by an attorney, and
  • Confront witnesses

Later, the Supreme Court also ruled charges against juveniles must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Can Juveniles Be Tried as Adults in Iowa?

A youth can be tried as an adult when:

  1. The juvenile court judge waives the case to adult court. Usually, this requires the child to be over 14 years old and a finding by the court that it is unlikely the child can be rehabilitated within a certain time.
  2. The child is 16 years of age or older and is accused of committing a forcible felony. Forcible felonies include, but are not limited to, murder, involuntary manslaughter, and sexual assault. In these situations, the case is often automatically originated in adult court. At times, the child may be waived back down to juvenile court.

Get Help with Your Child's Case

If your child has been accused of a crime in Des Moines, contact Branstad & Olson. We will advise you about the juvenile court processes and the best steps to take.

Please contact us at (515) 329-3100 today.