Finding yourself or your child involved in the juvenile justice system can be a difficult experience. Things may happen quickly, words may be used that are confusing, and you may not feel comfortable asking questions along the way. As a party to a juvenile delinquency case, you are entitled to know and understand the process. The following information may be helpful to you as you learn more about the juvenile justice system.
How Children Get to Juvenile Court
Most children under 18 years old who are arrested or break the law will have their case in juvenile court. They may be there because of a delinquent offense or a status offense. Examples of delinquent offenses include shoplifting, battery, and driving a car without a license, along with many other crimes that can also be committed by adults. Examples of status offenses are truancy from school, curfew violations, underage drinking, and running away from home. Only children can commit status offenses.
If a child is referred to juvenile court, a lot of different things can happen. Sometimes the child can decide to do an informal plan with probation instead of going in front of a judge. Other times, the child does have to go before a judge. The judge can decide whether to close a case, put a child on probation, or send a child to the Department of Correction. The judge can order the child to do things like counseling, community service work, meet with a mentor, go to school, or even go to a secure facility.
A child in juvenile court has a lot of rights. You can learn more about your rights here. Every child has a right to an attorney. It is very important that an attorney or public defender is assigned to represent every child in juvenile court. The attorney will help the child understand what is happening in the case and will help the child get the result he or she wants. You can learn more about how to get an attorney here.
Being referred to juvenile court can make things hard for a child. You can learn more about how a juvenile case can impact you here.
Juvenile findings do not go away when a child turns 18. These records stay in a computer system until you ask for them to be deleted, or expunged. Learn how to ask for an expungement here.
People in the Juvenile Justice System
If you go to juvenile court you will see that there are a lot of people involved in the process. The following information will help you understand who these people are and what they do.
Intake Officer - An intake officer is the first person a child and parent will talk to in the juvenile justice system. They gather information about the child and tell it to the judge. Sometimes they make decisions about the case including whether you are released or stay in detention until you see the judge.
Probation Officer - A probation officer works for the court. They tell the judge what should happen in the case and supervise children on probation.
Judge/Magistrate/Referee/Commissioner – The judge is in charge of the court and makes decisions about the case and the people involved in it. They decide if a child stays in detention, decide who wins at trial, and decide if a child is put on probation or sent to Department of Correction.
Prosecutor - The prosecutor is a lawyer who works with the police to bring charges against someone. The prosecutor tries to convince the judge that the child broke the law. The prosecutor also tells the judge what he or she thinks should happen to the child. The prosecutor should not talk to the child without the child's attorney being there. Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) - The judge may appoint a person to serve as a child’s guardian ad litem. This person will tell the judge what he or she thinks is in the child’s best interests.
Defense Attorney or Public Defender - All children in juvenile court have the right to be represented by an attorney. The attorney’s job is to talk the child, investigate the case and try to get the outcome that the child wants. The attorney works for the child. The conversations between the attorney and the child are confidential. This means that the attorney is not allowed to tell anyone this information unless the child tells them they can. Learn more about how to get an attorney here.
Stages of Juvenile Cases
A lot of different things can happen when a child goes to juvenile court. Much of this depends on what kind of hearing is taking place. The following information will help you learn more about what can happen when you go to juvenile court.
Detention Hearing – When a child is arrested and kept at a detention center he or she has to see a judge within 48 hours (not counting weekends or holidays). At this detention hearing the judge will decide whether the child has to stay at the detention center or if he or she can go home. The child should have an attorney at this hearing. The attorney will tell the judge what the child wants and will give information on who will supervise the child if he or she gets released.
Informal Adjustment/Diversion – This is a program the judge can put a child into that requires the child to stay out of trouble for a certain period of time. The program may require the child to do certain things like community service and other activities that a probation officer will check on. If the child completes the program, he or she will not have to go to court.
Initial Hearing – This is the hearing where the child will be told what charges he or she is being accused of. The child should have an attorney at this hearing to help the child decide how to respond to the charges. Learn more about how to get an attorney here.
Waiver Hearing – This hearing only happens when the prosecutor asks the judge to take the child’s case out of juvenile court and send it to adult court. The judge will hear information about the child and the case. The judge will use this information to decide which court is best for case to be heard. It is really important that any child facing waiver is represented by an attorney.
Fact-Finding Hearing – This is a trial where witness testify about what did or did not happen in the case. After the witnesses talk the judge will decide whether the child did something wrong. A child should always be represented by an attorney at a trial. The attorney will present any evidence and law that will help the child.
Dispositional Hearing – This is a hearing happens after a judge decides that a child has broken the law. This is where the judge decides what should happen to the child. The judge can order the child to do a lot of different things including be on probation, participate in treatment and even live somewhere else like a secure facility or the Department of Correction.
Review Hearing – At these hearings the judge checks to see how the child is doing on probation. A review hearing happens at least every 6 months until the child is told that his or her case is closed.
To learn more about Indiana’s Juvenile Justice System, check out this guide prepared by the Youth Law T.E.A.M. of Indiana: In English http://youthlawteam.org/files/2015%20Parent's%20Guide.pdf , and in Spanish http://youthlawteam.org/files/Parent's%20Guide%202015%20edits_SP%20rev.pdf
Rights at Trial
Your rights include, but are not always limited to:
- Right to know the date and time of all hearings
- Right to be at all hearings
- Right to know the charges
- Right to know what information will be given to the judge about the case
- Right to a trial within 20 business days if detained, or within 60 business days if released
- Right to ask witnesses questions, or “cross-examine” them
- Right to give the judge information on your case, have other people or witnesses give information, and make arguments
- Right to an attorney or public defender for free if you can’t pay for one
- Right to not have to tell the judge or anyone else what happened if you don’t want to
- Right to make the state prove the case against you so that the judge is positive you broke the law, called proof beyond a reasonable doubt
There is NO right to a jury trial in juvenile cases, meaning only a judge will hear your case
There is NO right to bond or bail in juvenile cases, meaning you cannot pay to get out of detention
You do not have to talk to the police. You can ask for your parent or guardian, or an attorney at any time. The police must stop talking to you if you ask for an attorney. It is good to have an attorney help you decide what you should or should not tell the police.
You should not talk to the police about your case. If you are a suspect in a case, the police are going to try to get information about what happened. This information goes into a police report and can lead to you getting charged. Later your words can be used against you in court.
You should talk to your parent or attorney before you say anything to the police. In Indiana, police cannot ask children questions about your case until you have been able to talk to your parent or attorney and decide if you want to answer the police questions or not. Besides telling the police officer your name, that you are a child and how to reach your parent, you should not say anything else about your case.
Safe things to do when you are stopped by the police
- Stay Calm. Even if you feel it’s unfair, stay clam, quiet, and polite.
- Stay Still. Walking, moving, or running away will make the police think you are dangerous.
- Stay Patient. Things can take awhile. Even a traffic ticket can take 20 minutes or more before you are free to leave.
- Show Hands. Hidden hands or moving hands will make the police believe you have something dangerous in your hands.
Safe things to do when you are frisked or searched by the police
- Do not resist.
- Stay still, calm, and patient.
- Do not touch the officer in any way.
Safe things to do when stopped by police while in a car
Slow down and pull over to the side of the road when it is safe to do so. If you are unsure whether the car is a police car or not, drive slowly, turn on your flashers, pull over to a public place with good lighting and stop.
Stay in your seat! Moving around, changing seats, and getting out of your car will make the police think you are dangerous. Keep your hands on the steering wheel if you are the driver. Keep your hands open and on your lap if you are the passenger. Do not get out of the car unless the police ask you to.
Search of the car – If the police want to search your car you can tell them no. If they search it anyway, try to stay calm, patient, and still.
Safe things to do when a police officer comes to your house
Make sure the person is really an officer. Look for a badge or ask for identification. Be polite, but serious.
Find out politely why the officers are at your house. If an adult is home, ask them to join you right away.
You do not have to let an officer inside your house unless they have a warrant or they are chasing a person and the person is inside your home.
Safe things to do when arrested
Ask to lock your car and/or home.
Obey the police officer. Do not resist or touch the officer.
Do not talk. Stay calm, still, and patient.
Ask to call your parents or other family members.
If you feel you are being mistreated, do not fight with the police. Pay attention to the officers, including their words, their actions, their names and badge numbers, and report them to the police agency later. If you are afraid or don’t know how to report the police, talk to a trusted adult or an attorney.
Some examples of police misconduct include:
Slapping, kicking, choking, and hitting. If an officer does these things to a person who is not resisting or fighting it is wrong and illegal. These actions must be reported.
Name calling, trash talking, or using racial and ethnic slurs are wrong and should be reported.
JUVENILE RECORDS DO NOT DISAPPEAR WHEN YOU TURN 18!
Unless you request an expungement, your juvenile history will stay in the court's system forever. For more information on expungement, click here.
Your juvenile case can impact you in a lot of ways that you might now expect. These are some examples
Employment - A future employer may ask about you juvenile history and can get copies of some juvenile records
Military – A recruiter may ask about your juvenile history and can deny enrollment in the military for certain offenses
Public police reports - Your name may be in a public police report. Some reports can be found online.
Future cases - A judge, prosecutor, and probation officer will be able to look up your juvenile history and can use it against you when determining release, bond amount and sentencing
Elementary, Middle and High School – Bad behavior and not following rules while at school, on school property, or at a school activity can result in a suspension or expulsion. Even breaking the law away from school can lead to a suspension or expulsion if it somehow interferes with school or education.
College – Many colleges ask about juvenile delinquency cases on their applications.
Twenty-First Century Scholarship Program – This program requires students to certify they have not committed any illegal activity or a delinquent act
Driver’s License – The court can invalidate or suspend your license or learner's permit due to certain juvenile offenses. This regularly happens on driving while intoxicated cases.
HIV testing – If you commit a sexual act or a drug offense that could transfer HIV, the court could order you to be tested for HIV.
Sex offender registry – If you commit a sex act a judge can place you on this public registry if it is likely you will commit a similar act in the future.
Future foster parent or kinship care – The Indiana Department of Child Services can deny a foster parent license if you have certain juvenile adjudications.
Government Assisted Housing – The housing authority may deny housing to someone whose family member is involved in certain criminal activity
You can learn more about how a juvenile case can impact you here.
Every child has a right to have an attorney, or lawyer, to help with their case. When a child cannot pay for an attorney, the court will give that person a public defense attorney. This person is also called a public defender. A public defense attorney is a free lawyer who works for the child. The prosecutor is an attorney as well, so it is important that the child has an attorney to make sure the process is fair.
If an attorney is not given to you or your child at the first court hearing, ask the judge to appoint one. You may have to tell the judge why you cannot pay for an attorney. It is important to have an attorney with you at every hearing. Sometimes you may have to wait for your attorney before your case can be heard in court. Once an attorney is appointed, make sure you have a good number to call him or her.
Attorneys have all gone to law school. They can help you figure out what to do in your case. They know how to write letters, or motions, to the judge, and know how to prepare for a trial. Attorneys can give you advice about what may happen to you and ways that you can resolve your case. The attorney will tell the judge what you want in your case.
You may be able to ask for an appeal if you disagree with what happened in your juvenile case. An appeal is when judges in another court look at your case and decide if a mistake was made. If the judges decide that a mistake was made, the judges will decide whether the mistake was serious enough to change what happens in your case.
You must ask for an appeal within 30 days of your disposition hearing. The disposition hearing is when the judge decides what will happen to you and what you must do because of your case. You can ask for an appeal by telling your attorney that you want one. Your attorney will let the court know you want an appeal.
If you do not have an attorney you can tell the court directly that you want an appeal. When you do this you should also tell the court that you want an attorney to help you in your appeal. If you have questions about how to ask for an appeal you can contact the Juvenile Defense Project at (317) 232-7212 or send an email to jwieneke@PDC.in.gov
In Indiana, juvenile cases are not automatically expunged when you turn 18. You have to ask the court to expunge your records. There are two ways to do this. You can ask to have your records sealed or you can ask to have them permanently destroyed. Sealed records cannot be looked at by the public but are still kept by the court. Destroyed records no longer exist and that means no one can ever see them. Having your records destroyed is better than having them sealed. But sometimes a judge will not agree to destroy your records. Even if this happens, some of your records may still be sealed. The information below will tell you more about each option.
Some juvenile records can be sealed. If you did not end up with an adjudication after an arrest or juvenile court case, you can get the records sealed. This includes an arrest where you didn’t have to go to court, an informal adjustment or diversion, a case that went to court but was dismissed, and a case where you had a trial and won. You have to wait one year before you can ask for the records to be sealed. If you did get an adjudication the records for that case cannot be sealed. If you were on probation that probably means you had an adjudication.
You have to ask for the records to be expunged. You can go to the court clerk's office where the charges were filed and ask for an expungement form or you can access the Indiana Expungement Request Form here. After you fill out the form you will give it to the court clerk. If you do not know the information asked for in the form, simply fill out what information you do know and turn in the form. You do not have to pay money to ask for an expungement.
You give this petition to the clerk at the courthouse. You do not have to pay money to get your records sealed. If your petition meets all of the requirements of the law, the judge has to seal your records.
All juvenile records can be destroyed if a judge allows them to be. This includes cases where you were put on probation or even sent to the Department of Correction. You have to ask for the records to be expunged. You can go to the court clerk's office where the charges were filed and ask for an expungement form. Some counties have the expungement form online. You can check your county clerk's office website to see if there is a form. After you fill out the form you will give it to the court clerk. You do not have to pay money to ask for an expungement.
Your request for an expungement will go to the juvenile court judge. The judge will review your request. Sometimes the judge will want you to come to court to talk about why your request should be granted. If you get a letter in the mail telling you to come to court, make sure that you go to the hearing. If you do not go, your request will probably be denied.
When the judge reviews your request for expungement the judge will consider a lot of things. This might include:
- What kind of juvenile cases you had
- What happened in those cases
- How you have been doing since you were last in juvenile court
- If you have ever been charged in adult court
- What you are doing in your life now
- Why you want your juvenile records expunged
If you have a court hearing, you should bring things with you that will help the judge see how well you are doing. This can include:.
- Letters of recommendation from employers, teachers, neighbors, religious leaders, or even friends
- Class schedules
- Report Cards
- Documents proving you have a job, like your pay stub
- Documents showing you are responsible for things like paying your rent
- Letters of acceptance
- Any other document that shows you are doing good things with your life
- Friends and relatives that can tell the judge how good you are doing
If the judge decides not to expunge your juvenile records you can ask again later. There is no limit on how many times you can ask for this. But it is best to wait a little while so you can show the judge the next time how much better you are doing.
You can read the law that allows you to have your records destroyed here.
Expungement Information and Forms By County
Sometimes juvenile cases start when a student gets in trouble at school. Charges may be filed in juvenile court and a student may be disciplined in school for the same action.
The juvenile court process and the school discipline process are separate. School officials can make decisions that can have a big impact on you or your child's future. It is a good idea to talk with someone who can give you advice on how to handle the school discipline process.
The following organizations may be able to help you learn more about the school discipline process and any rights you may have:
Indiana Legal Services
To find the office near you, go to http://www.indianalegalservices.org/node/7/office-locations
If your child has or may have a disability, you have certain rights! These terms and explanations might help you figure outh what the school needs to provide your child.