Differences Between the Juvenile Justice System and the Adult Criminal Justice System

You often hear about people being in the juvenile criminal justice system, and you may wonder “what exactly is the difference between the adult criminal justice system and the system that deals with juveniles?”  There are several things about the juvenile system that differ from the adult system because of the age(s) of the accused.  It is important to remember that although a child (up to age 17) will be placed in the juvenile system by default, occasionally they may be tried as an adult.  This will happen on occasions when the children are older (about 15-17 years old), and the crime is particularly bad (for example, a murder).

The first difference your child will notice after being arrested, is that he would be taken to a detention facility separate from the jail.  For example, in Collin County, adults are transported to the Collin County Detention Center, and juveniles are transported to the separate Collin County Juvenile Detention Center.  Unlike adult jail, where inmates can choose to sit all day or take part in the inmate worker program, those detained in the juvenile detention center are required to participate in academic education and other programs designed to give the detainees structure and continued growth throughout their time there.

Another difference between the two systems is that the adult system is focused somewhat on rehabilitation, but largely on punishment and retribution.  The juvenile system touts itself as being all about rehabilitation.  It may be that your child does not need rehabilitation—he or she could be a great kid who is getting pinned with something he or she didn’t do, or even if they did do it, maybe it was just a bad decision by an otherwise great child.  Either way, it is important for you to understand that the juvenile system is structured in such a way that you will hear the state, judges, guardians ad litem, and almost everyone else involved in the case speak about your child as though he or she needs it, although you and your child’s attorney may understand that that is not the case at all.

Because the focus in juvenile cases is less retributive and more rehabilitative, your lawyer has many different options to help you seal the records.  According to Texas Family Code 58.003(a), a juvenile may have his or her record sealed, the effect of which is to remove the incident from the juvenile’s criminal history, if it has been two years since the discharge of the case and the child has not gotten in any more significant trouble (i.e. no felonies, misdemeanors involving moral turpitude, or other actions requiring supervision).

Finally, in the adult system someone convicted is said to be “found guilty” whereas in the juvenile system a child is said to be “adjudicated to have engaged in delinquent conduct.”

Some of these differences are minute, but they should help you better understand the general approach in juvenile criminal justice as opposed to the adult system.

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