The Juvenile Justice System is a very different system than the adult system. In Shelby County, the Juvenile Judge is Jim Kramer. He is very knowledgeable about the Juvenile Justice system but also very in tune to the purpose and meaning of the governing statute which is the Juvenile Justice Act found in Title 12 Chapter 15 of the Code of Alabama (1975). The Juvenile System is centered more around Juvenile Rehabilitation than Punishment as is the Adult System. It is our opinion that it is very important to obtain counsel that has expertise in this area and practices in the county where the Juvenile Court resides. Lara Alvis was actually the prosecutor in Juvenile court and Juvenile drug court before leaving the District Attorney’s office in Shelby County. She was also the Juvenile Court Supervisor over Juvenile and District Court. Barry Alvis has litigated numerous cases in the Juvenile Courts of Jefferson, Shelby, Bessemer, St. Clair and many others.
The Juvenile Court Process:
- A petition is filed to start the criminal process which alleges a criminal act that is covered in the Code of Alabama (1975).
- A misdemeanor is filed by the victim and is punishable by less than a year if charged in the juvenile system.
- A felony is filed by the police officer.If the charge is felony or one that arises out of a domestic violence situation, the juvenile will have a detention hearing within 48 hours after their arrest. The purpose of the detention hearing is to determine whether the child poses a threat to the person or property of others or himself. Juveniles – unlike adults – are not entitled to bail. Attorney representation is very important at the Detention Hearing because if unsuccessful your child stays in Juvenile Detention instead of coming back home with his or her parents.
- The next step is a Preliminary Hearing and the child comes before the Judge and pleads True or Not True to the charge (unlike the adult system where the adult pleads Guilty or Not Guilty).
- Not True – This means the case will be set out and witnesses will be subpoenaed for trial.
- True – This is one of many dispositions that could be in the best interest of the child, which is the standard in juvenile court, if agreed upon by the parties
- Intake – This is the process where the probation officer meets with the child and his/her family when the case first enters the system.The probation officer gathers information about the child’s background, school records, prior criminal history, mental illness, educational disability, drug abuse and mental retardation. The probation officer then compiles a report and recommends to the Judge what needs to happen with the child in regard to the options available in the juvenile system.
Basic Rehabilitation Options for Juveniles in Alabama Courts
- Informal Adjustment – Deferred
- Consent Decree – Continued to Be Dismissed; Set Conditions
- Probation – Plead True
- Boot Camp – Not as commonly used but typically a 28 – 45 day program
- Suspended Commitment – custody is vested with the Department of Youth Services but the Juvenile is allowed to stay at home
- Department of Youth Services – the Juvenile is committed to the custody of DYS (this is equivalent of prison in the adult system) in the State of Alabama and serves a sentence
There are other special and different issues with regard to juveniles that adults do not get to take advantage of in the adult system. A juvenile file will be sealed until age 21 and at age 25, the Juvenile can petition to have the Judge enter an order destroying their files. The only exception to this is sex offenses.
Juvenile Courts also regularly deal with parents and schools that have children that have not committed a crime but are ungovernable, runaways, and consistently truant in Court.
One very important factor that our clients are always surprised about is that parents are “attached as a party to the Juvenile disposition.” This means in layman’s terms that the parents are under control of the Court as well and if the Court issues an order for a Juvenile the parents must follow it. For example, if a Juvenile is ordered to be home by a certain time and the Juvenile does not obey the order and the parents do not report this violation to the Juvenile Court; the parents can be put in Jail for contempt of a Court order. Additionally, there are several other ways the Court has control of the parents when they are attached as a party in a Juvenile disposition including but not limited to random urinalysis for the parents and the Juvenile.
A juvenile can be transferred to adult Court in certain situations. The District Attorney assigned to Juvenile Court files a Motion to transfer the case if the Juvenile defendant is older than 14 but less than 18 at the time the offense was committed. Upon the State’s filing of a Transfer Motion, the Juvenile Court will conduct a hearing to determine if it is in the best interest of the child and the public to transfer the case. The hearing is in two phases: Probable Cause phase and the Dispositional Phase. In the Probable Cause Phase, the District Attorney must show that it is more likely than not that the Juvenile charged with the crime actually did commit the crime. At the Dispositional Phase, the Court looks at the following factors to determine whether or not it is in the best interest of the child or the community to transfer the case:
1 – Nature of the Offense
2 – Child’s Prior Delinquency Record
3 – Past Treatment Efforts
4 – Child’s Response to Past Treatment Efforts
5 – Child’s Physical and Mental Maturity
6 – The Interest of the Community
There are crimes for which Minors / Juveniles are automatically charged as Adults. The law reads that “any person who is 16 years or older at the time of conduct charged and is charged with one of the following offenses will be tried as an adult:
- A Capital Offense
- Class A Felony
- A Felony which has an element thereof which includes the use of a Deadly Weapon
- A felony which has an element thereof involving causing the death or serious physical injury of another.
Last, as stated above, Juveniles do not have the right to bond or bail so they are given a detention hearing to decide if they can be released from custody. We highly recommend that a retained attorney is hired instead of using the public defender assigned by the Juvenile Court system. The reason for this is because the Public Defender may not find out until the very day that your child needs representation or that they will be representing your child. To properly prepare for a Juvenile Detention hearing, it needs to be treated like a trial. Witnesses that are available need to be located, people who can testify about the character of the child should be used and the defense needs to be prepared with a proposal for the Court with factors and conditions upon release for the child to follow. The Court is much more likely to let a child out if the Defense has a plan already in place and the parents are behind it to monitor the child’s behavior. A public defender just simply has too many cases to do this type of work for your child.