Illinois was the pioneer in the juvenile court process as the nation’s first court for children was established in 1899 in Cook County. Then, as now, the idea behind the separation was that children aren’t yet of full maturity, either legally or developmentally. As such, lawmakers then thought they should not be treated the same as adults.
The fundamental difference between the two systems is the end product. Adult courts are designed to punish people from wrongdoings as well as to provide avenues for rehabilitation. In the juvenile system, the main emphasis is on rehabilitation. To that end, the proceedings are closed to the public, the records are sealed and every effort is make to keep a child out of prison and placed in a program that will maximize his or her chances to better themselves.
Within Peoria County, there are two main courtrooms that involved juvenile proceedings. One deals with criminal matters and the other with abuse and neglect cases. In both matters, the proceedings are closed to the public.
In an abuse or neglect matter, the case is often referred to the court by a mandated reporter. This can be a healthcare worker, a teacher, a police officer or a social worker. They are required by law to report instances where they think a child is being harmed or neglected. The state’s Department of Child and Family Services then gets involved and could take immediate custody of a child. The state’s attorney’s office then could get involved and if they feel the matte rises to a certain level, the office could file a petition with the court for a shelter care hearing. That’s where the state would ask a judge to remove the child or children on a temporary or even permanent basis.
Every party has an attorney, even the child who has what is called a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). The GAL ‘s job is to look out for the best interests of the child. They are the legal advocate for the child. Such hearings can be stressful and nerve-wracking. It’s important to have an attorney who understands the law and who can maintain your rights. That’s where Miller Law Offices comes in. We have tried many cases in juvenile court and understand the stress you are going through. We are willing to work with you to do what it takes to get your child back in your care and if not immediately possible, we’ll protect your rights to insure you can at least visit with your children.
The other matter is juvenile delinquency court. This is very similar to adult criminal court except there is no right to a jury trial, things tend to move quicker and the convictions (called adjudications) are sealed.
In most cases, probation is the preferred route though children over the age of 13 could be sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice. However, any sentence is deemed completed when the minor child reaches his or her 21st birthday. Probation could last longer if there are violations but for the most part, children tend to be finished with the system then.
There are some cases due to the nature of the crime and a child’s age that could be transferred from the juvenile court division to the adult court division. Those tend to be more serious crimes like shootings, murder, armed robbery or sexual assaults. The state must be able to show, in most cases, that the public is better served and their need to be protected outweighs the child’s inherent right to rehabilitation.
That’s a broad overview of the juvenile court system and by no means, comprehensive. If you are involved in the system, don’t panic. Call our office. We will discuss your case and try to find a solution that will be the least stressful to your family as possible.