As a Minnesota parent, you experience moments of worry for your child. If your son or daughter is a teenager, such moments might occur often, especially if he or she has been making some poor choices regarding choosing friends or participating in certain activities when he or she is away from home. If you are one of many parents throughout the state who have received a phone call from police, saying they have your child in custody, you will want to learn more about the juvenile justice system.
The juvenile justice system is different from the adult criminal court system in numerous ways. The more you learn ahead of time, the better able you might be to help your child navigate the system.
Rehabilitation and community protection are primary goals
As a minor, the criminal court system operates on the logical assumption that your child’s cognitive abilities and maturity level are not as fully developed as the average adult’s might be. When the court convicts an adult of a crime, the focus is on executing a sentence that is proportional to the offense. The court believes that such punishment helps deter future criminal activity.
If your minor son or daughter faces a hearing for suspicion of a crime, such as theft, underage drinking or drug possession, etc., the primary focus is on providing resources for rehabilitation, which often includes community service work. The court would carefully assess your child’s legal history, family background, academic standing and more, to help devise a plan that best fits his or her needs.
Delinquent versus guilty
If you go to court because your child must attend a hearing for suspected criminal activity, the terminology you hear the judge use might be different from words you would typically hear in a courtroom setting where an adult is on trial. For instance, the court does not rule a juvenile ”guilty” of a crime. Rather, it uses the term ”delinquent.” The court also issues a ”disposition” versus a ”sentence” in a case involving a juvenile.
If the court rules that your son or daughter is delinquent, the judge might decide to issue an open disposition, meaning one without a set completion date. The court might simply rule that your child is to continue with the ordered rehabilitative program until it deems that your child no longer needs the treatment or until he or she reaches the legal age of adulthood.
Do not hesitate to reach out for support
There are many local resources that you, as a Minnesota parent, may tap into to provide support to your family when your child is facing criminal charges. In addition to school guidance counselors, family counselors, community faith ministries or psychologists, there are also legal support resources at your disposal.
Try not to let the fear of embarrassment keep you from enlisting the aid of others to help your family navigate the juvenile justice system. You may take comfort in knowing that you are not the first family to have a teenager who has gotten in trouble with the law, and you will undoubtedly not be the last. Early intervention and support might be the key to helping your son or daughter get things back on track in his or her life.