Children often test the limits and boundaries set by their parents and other authority figures. While some rebellion and experimentation is common, a few children consistently participate in problematic behaviors that negatively affect their family, academic, social, and personal functioning. These children present great concern to parents and the community at large. The prevention of delinquency requires identifying at-risk individuals and their environments before delinquent activity and behavior occur, and then removing those risk factors or strengthening resistance to the risk factors already present.
A juvenile delinquent is a child who is under 16 years old, but is at least 7 years old, and commits an act which would be considered a crime if he or she were an adult, and is then found to be in need of supervision, treatment or confinement. All juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court, but some can be heard in Supreme Court. Some children who are 13, 14 and 15 years old and commit more serious or violent acts may be treated as adults.
A petition may be filed by a prosecuting attorney or by the Division of Children and Family Services. In a juvenile delinquency case, the trial is called a "fact-finding hearing". A fact-finding hearing is the same as a criminal trial, but without a jury. At the fact-finding hearing, the prosecuting attorney or agency must prove its case through witnesses and other evidence. The child's attorney may cross-examine the witnesses and may present witnesses and evidence. If a finding is made against the child, the judge will schedule a "dispositional hearing" and order the Probation Department to investigate the child's home and school behavior.
At the dispositional hearing, the judge decides whether the child is a "juvenile delinquent" in need of supervision, treatment or confinement (placement). During the hearing, the judge hears testimony about the child's previous behavior in school and at home, and any previous court cases involving the child. The child's parents or guardians and other persons with information helpful to the court may testify. The judge decides which disposition would meet the needs of the child. Even if there is a finding that the child committed the acts described in the petition, if the judge finds that the child is not in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the petition must be dismissed.
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