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In the juvenile justice system and adult justice system in Minnesota have many differences. These differences are not just in terminology (though certainly that is true as well), but also in the actual processes, procedures, and laws implemented by the government.

General Differences Between the Juvenile and Adult Systems of Justice

Experienced juvenile defense attorneys Minnesota know and understand the juvenile justice system differs from the adult criminal justice system in several ways. Some of the key differences are evident simply by the terminology used throughout to describe the respective criminal justice processes. Take for example the general vocabulary differences used by Minnesota statutes and rules of procedures when addressing each area of the criminal justice process. For an adult, he or she is arrested by police, charged with a crime, found guilty by a court, sentenced to an adult correctional facility and incarcerated for a specified period of time. Meanwhile, for a juvenile, the child is apprehended by police, petitioned for an offense, found to have committed an offense by a court, and receives a disposition to be placed in a juvenile correctional facility. Thus, the two are processes are described in two very different ways. This is largely attributable to the philosophical differences of the two systems of justice: the adult system being largely committed to punishing offenders; the juvenile system being largely committed to rehabilitating children’s behavior.

As an experienced juvenile defense attorney who is dedicated to advocating on behalf of kids who are facing criminal allegations by the government, it is important for both children and parents to have a general understanding of the Minnesota juvenile justice system.

The Age of the Person being Accused is a Key Factor

Any individual apprehended or being accused of an offense in juvenile court must have been under age 18 at the time the alleged offense is alleged to have occurred.

How a Juvenile is Apprehended

Most juveniles are apprehended by law enforcement. If the apprehended juvenile was between ages 10 and 17 at the time of the offense, the case is referred to the juvenile court and is considered a rehabilitative or justice-related case. If the apprehended juvenile was under age 10 at the time of the offense, the case is sent to juvenile court as a child in need of protection or services, which means it is considered a social services-related case, generally involving the juvenile`s mental and physical health. The juvenile court may be in the juvenile’s county of residence or the county where the offense occurred.

How a Case Ends up in Juvenile Court

Law enforcement officials refer the case to a probation officer or to a county attorney, whichever is allowed based upon the county’s juvenile matter intake procedures. After intake, if there is enough evidence available to the government to prosecute the case, the county attorney will then file a petition with the juvenile court and ask the juvenile court to make a finding or determination of delinquency. This starts the formal court procedures of the juvenile’s case.

Following this, the court schedules the juvenile’s case for an arraignment. Next, the juvenile will need to appear in court. This most often is the first time the juvenile has appeared in court on this particular matter. There are some exceptions to this; however, this is true most of the time. While appearing in court, the juvenile will generally be asked by the court to either admit to the charge(s) or deny the charges. If the juvenile admits the charge(s) (which is never recommended without an experienced attorney having first been hired to evaluate the case), then the court can impose “the disposition” – which is similar to being found guilty in an adult criminal case. Thus, “the disposition” is basically the conclusion of a juvenile case by the court and court accepting the admission by the juvenile that he or she violated the law. After the court accepts a juvenile’s admission, then (depending on the severity of the case and the county’s local practice) the court may order a “predisposition investigation” and set a date for the disposition hearing. A disposition hearing is similar to (and function in much the same way) as an adult’s criminal sentencing hearing.

If the youth denies the charge(s), a trial date is set.

(PLEASE NOTE: both admitting and denying conduct that a juvenile is accused of committing should only be done after obtaining the legal advice of an experienced juvenile defense attorney.)

Most juvenile court trials are bench trials (also known as court trial). In this situation the judge is the sole fact-finder; thus, there is no jury involved in the case. Once a trial is held and all the evidence and witnesses have been presented to the court, then the judge has to decide the merits of the case. If the petition offense is proven, then the judge will find the juvenile delinquent. (This is similar to an adult being found guilty after a trial.) If this happens, then the court will set a date for the disposition hearing (again, this hearing is similar to an adult’s sentencing hearing after being convicted of a crime at trial) . At the disposition hearing the judge decides the type of “rehabilitation” (or often referred to as the sentence) the juvenile will receive.

If the petition is not proven, then the court must dismisses the case. (This is similar to an adult being found not guilty after a trial.)


Juvenile Certified as an “Adult” (i.e., how a juvenile ends up in adult criminal court)

The court may order that a juvenile who was age 14 or older at the time of the offense and who is charged with a felony, be certified as adult and tried in criminal, or adult, court. Juveniles convicted of an offense in criminal court receive adult sentences. Juveniles charged with first degree murder, which includes premeditated murder, who were age 16 or 17 at the time of the offense, are required by Minnesota Statutes to be certified as adults and sent to criminal court, where they receive an adult sentence if they are found guilty of the offense.

Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile (EJJ)

While some juveniles may be sent immediately to criminal court, the prosecutor or the court may decide to try the case as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile prosecution. Generally, the juvenile would need to have been age 14 to 17 at the time of the offense and the charge must be a felony level offense. EJJ cases essentially mean that the juvenile is given a juvenile disposition and the adult sentence is stayed – meaning the juvenile is first given the chance to complete the terms of the juvenile disposition. If the juvenile fails to complete the juvenile disposition, the adult sentence, which may include incarceration in an adult correctional facility, takes effect.

Sentences and Incarceration

Individuals may be committed to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections. This means the juvenile is placed in a juvenile correctional facility or put on probation – a process of surveillance and supervision of offenders, which may follow incarceration. Probation may include house arrest, face-to-face contacts with probation officers and drug testing.

Other dispositions a juvenile may receive, but which may not include commitment to the commissioner of corrections, include therapy, foster home placement and drug treatment. There are roughly 100 dispositions a judge may use to fit the needs of a juvenile. Juveniles may receive more than one disposition in court.

Juveniles completing the terms of the disposition are usually age 21 or younger, but in some cases may be up to age 26. In most cases a record about an offense committed while a juvenile is not public information.


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Contact a criminal defense attorney.