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Juvenile Court in Massachusetts FAQs

Those of us who need to navigate the juvenile justice system because a child made a mistake that resulted in allegations of criminal wrongdoing may take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Thousands of children and teenagers find themselves in this system every year.

As parents, we want to help make sure the mistakes of our children’s youth do not keep them from a successful future. The following information can help to better understand of how the system works for our children and potential options that may lead to a better resolution.

How does the juvenile justice system work?

The courts generally break the process down into multiple stages. If progressing through the entire system, it can include confrontation over the allegedly delinquent behavior, referral to the system or arrest, intake, transfer or waiver, detention, adjudication, disposition, juvenile corrections, and aftercare.

What is Juvenile Court?

A criminal proceeding against a juvenile is generally referred to within the legal system as a delinquency matter. The Commonwealth defines a juvenile as those ages 12 to 18. Massachusetts has tasked the Juvenile Court with balancing public safety with helping children in need of services and rehabilitating juveniles.

What should we expect in Juvenile Court?

If the process moves beyond recognition of allegedly delinquent behavior and referral to the system to intake, the child will generally enter the court system in Massachusetts in one of two categories: a juvenile delinquent or a youthful offender. The youthful offender designation is more serious and generally involves those with previous offenses, or allegations of criminal activity that have the potential for serious bodily injury as well as gun charges.

During intake, attorneys or intake workers will likely determine whether the issue is best resolved with formal processing in juvenile court, handled informally, or dismissed. There are some situations where the commonwealth may choose to transfer the accused to the adult system depending on the offense and the age of the accused.

If formally processed in court, the next question is whether officials need to formally detain the child before the adjudication process. The court may consider this option if it believes the individual is a danger to society or a flight risk. Next, during the adjudication process, the court will generally determine that the child is either delinquent, innocent, or chooses to dismiss the allegations. If found delinquent, the child moves on to a disposition hearing, where a judge reviews a proposed intervention plan and hears from all involved before making a determination. The judge may choose community supervision, also known as probation, or placement in a residential facility.

Upon completion of the process, the court assign youth a period of aftercare, meant to offer supervision and support while the youth transitions back into the community.

Will my child go to jail?

There is no easy answer to this question without knowing the details of the case. A judge may commit a child to a Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility. These facilities are secure treatment centers.

What else should I know?

Certain first-time offenses can qualify for a Juvenile Diversion Program. This program allows an alternative to the court process. It involves voluntary participation in counseling, education, and community service projects. If the wrongdoing resulted in property damage, the juvenile will likely remain responsible for repayment or restitution.

It is also important to note that the rules that guide the system are evolving. It is wise to review changes and take them into account.

These are just a few points to consider when helping build a defense strategy for a child accused of wrongdoing. An attorney experienced in this niche area of criminal law can provide further information and discuss these as well as other potential options.


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