How is the Juvenile Justice System Different?

Children are prone to making mistakes, and unfortunately, those mistakes can land them in trouble with the law. Because our criminal justice system recognizes that children do make mistakes from which they must learn and improve themselves, the juvenile justice system is structured much differently than the adult court system. Not only are the foundational principles different (and focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment), there are also unique rules and procedures involved in juvenile courts.

At Joey Gilbert Law, our Reno juvenile crime lawyers have extensive experience protecting the rights and futures of minors who find themselves facing allegations, as well as their families who want to help ensure they have the best possible chances of learning from their mistakes while still having a future filled with opportunities. If your child is facing allegations as a juvenile, there are a few important things you should know about the juvenile justice system.

  • A focus on rehabilitation – The key differentiating factor between the juvenile justice system and adult courts is that juvenile courts are focused on rehabilitation rather than stiff and stringent penalties. Our legal system knows children make mistakes, and does not want to hinder their future opportunities to become productive citizens simply due to youthful errors or misjudgments. This founding principle is precisely why juvenile cases are handled separately from adult cases, and why there is ample opportunity for leniency, more rehabilitative and instructional sentencing options, and greater opportunities for expungement.
  • Most minors are handled in the juvenile system – Most minors under the age of 18 will have their cases handled in the juvenile justice system precisely for the reasons mentioned above. That means that before they become 18 and have greater responsibility for their actions and livelihood, they can be adjudicated in juvenile courts for any lapse of judgments that got them in trouble with the law. As we have mentioned in a previous blog however, juvenile cases can be transferred to adult courts under certain circumstances, where minors will face harsher penalties and long-term consequences. These transfers are typically reserved for more serious cases, including certain felonies, murder, and sex crimes, often at the discretion of prosecutors. Minors charged as adults need proven attorneys on their side to reduce the potential impact of convictions on their futures.
  • Different terms – Juvenile cases are generally more informal than adult criminal cases, and they use different terms to describe common criminal court procedures. For example, juveniles are technically prosecuted for “delinquent acts” rather than “crimes,” unless those acts constitute serious felonies as mentioned above. Juveniles are also adjudicated by judges instead of tried.
  • No trial by jury – Minors do not have a right to trial by jury when prosecuted for delinquencies as adults do when they are charged with crimes. Instead, a juvenile court judge handles proceedings (adjudicates), hears evidence and defense, and enters a disposition as to whether a minor committed an offense or not. Judges also rule on potential punishment, which are generally more lenient and rehabilitation-based than adult court penalties. For example, juveniles may be required to perform community service or enroll in and complete certain courses that provide educations and resources for success. Juvenile court judges must act in the best interests of a child.

Because the juvenile court process is much different than proceedings handled in adult criminal court – and because there is ample opportunity for positive resolutions that protect a child’s future opportunities in life – minors and their families should be intent on working with defense attorneys who have experience handling juvenile crime cases. Our legal team at Joey Gilbert Law has just that, and is committed to providing minors and their loved ones with client-focused representation to ensure their matters are handled as appropriately as possible, and that they become learning experiences that can be put in the past.

If you have questions about juvenile crimes and defense, contact our legal team at (775) 574-4774 for a free consultation.


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