In juvenile court, criminal matters are called delinquency cases.
In delinquency cases, the main function of the Court is to decide, based on the evidence presented, whether or not a young person accused of a crime has broken the law.
How a Criminal Case gets to Court
When a young person is arrested, one of two things can happen: either the youth is released to the custody of his family or the youth is held in jail until brought before a judge.
After a young person is arrested, the police write a report about the facts and circumstances of the arrest and the crime the child is alleged to have committed. The police send that report to District Attorney's office in the Juvenile Division, where an Assistant District Attorney reviews the case for appropriateness for prosecution.
If the District Attorney decides to prosecute the case, the Assistant D.A. files what is called a "Delinquency Petition" with the Court. The delinquency petition is the legal charge against the young person. The legal case begins with the filing of the petition.
The petition is assigned a case number and the Clerk of Court computer system randomly allots the case to a section of Court.
District Attorney has filed Charges against your Child
Child Released to the Custody of a Relative after Arrest
If the District Attorney decides to prosecute a young person who was released to the custody of his family after being arrested, a sheriff deputy will personally go to the youth's house and serve a copy of the delinquency petition and a subpoena to appear in Court before a judge.
Child Detained in Jail after Arrest
If the District Attorney decides to prosecute a young person who was detained in jail after being arrested must be brought to Court before a judge before he can be considered for release. When the youth and parent appear before the judge, the Court will serve them with a copy of the delinquency petition. This Court hearing is called the "Continued Custody" hearing.
What happens in Court
Your Child's First Appearance in Court
OK, your child has been arrested. You must now appear in court before the judge with your child for the first time within a day or two the arrest.
Legal Representation for Your Child
First, the judge will ask you if you can afford an attorney. If not, the judge will appoint an attorney to represent your child.
There is a $35.00 fee for the public defender to represent your child. You must pay this amount the first time your child comes to court. The judge may grant you extra time, but not more than forty-eight hours, to pay this fee.
Review of the Factual Basis of Your Child's Arrest
Next, the judge will ask your child's attorney if he or she has had a chance to review the police report regarding your child's arrest. If so, the judge will ask the attorney if he or she wants to stipulate - acknowledge for the court - that the police report establishes that the police officer had enough facts to lawfully arrest your child.
Please note - this is not a determination that your child is guilty of the crime charged. It is only an acknowledgement that if the officer were called to testify in court, he would state enough facts for the court to determine that the arrest itself was lawful.
Again, this is not a decision that your child is guilty. Only the judge, after a trial, can determine if there is enough evidence to show guilt or innocence.
Court Review of the basis of Your Child's Arrest - "Probable Cause for Arrest"
If your child's attorney does not believe that there are enough facts in the police report to justify your child's arrest, then the attorney can ask for a "probable cause" hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to find out if the arrest itself was lawful.
At this hearing, the arresting officer must testify about the facts and circumstances of the arrest. Your child's attorney will cross-examine the police officer about the police report and the facts. Your child's attorney also may call witnesses who were present at the scene who can testify for your child.
After the testimony, the judge will decide if there was "probable cause" for the arrest. This means the judge will decide if the police officer had enough facts to make the arrest.
If the judge finds that the police officer did not have a factual basis to arrest your child, the judge will immediately release your child to your custody. Even so, the District Attorney may still legally prosecute your child for the alleged crime.
If the judge finds that there was a factual basis to arrest your child, then the judge will review your child's prior criminal record, if there is any.
Your Child's Prior Criminal Record - if any
If the judge finds that there was a factual basis to arrest your child, then the judge will ask court personnel about your child's prior criminal record.
Based your child's prior criminal record or lack of it, the judge will then decide whether your child should be held in jail until a trial is held.
In making this decision, the law requires the judge to consider a number of things, including the seriousness of the crime with which your child is charged, the circumstances of the alleged crime, and whether there is a threat to public safety or to other potential victims.
After reviewing these considerations, the judge may decide to detain your child pending trial or to release to your child to your custody until the trial is held.
Release of Your Child to Your Custody
If the judge releases your child to your custody, there may be conditions of the release, such as being placed on an electronic monitoring device, placed on house arrest, or required to stay away from the alleged victim of the crime.
Your child may also be required to go to school or to attend a special pre-trial monitoring program.
If the judge decides to detain your child, the judge will set a bond. Bonds are set either for payment in cash or through a bail bond company.
Usually, the judge will require the payment of 10% of the bond in order to release a child. For example, if bond has been set at $1,000.00, you would have to pay $100.00 to get your child released from jail.
Your Child May Remain in Jail until Trial
If you are unable to make bond or choose not to make bond, your child will be detained in jail pending trial.
What Jail will My Child be Held in?
Juveniles awaiting trial are held at the following location:
Youth Study Center
1100 Milton Street
New Orleans, LA 70122
Issuing You a Subpoena for the Next Court Hearing
Before you leave the court, the judge will set your child's case for a "Pre-Trial Conference."
This hearing is usually held within a week to ten days of arrest. You will be served with a subpoena to return to court with your child for the pre-trial conference.
After you pay the $35 public defender fee, you are free to leave the court.
At the pre-trial conference, you will appear in a new section of court before a different judge.
Also, your child will be represented by a different public defender. Your child's new attorney will have received a copy of the police report from the District Attorney's Office before meeting with you to discuss your child's case.
This is your opportunity to find out more about the charges pending against your child. Your child's attorney will also ask you and your child about possible witnesses who can testify at trial on your child's behalf.
Should My Child go to Trial or Plead Guilty?
At the pre-trial conference, you, your child, and your child's attorney must evaluate the facts and circumstances of the case against your child.
Your child and your child's attorney must then decide if your child will plead not guilty and set the matter for trial, or to plead guilty and admit that your child committed the alleged offense.
If your child pleads not guilty, the judge will set the case for trial.
If your child is detained, the law requires the judge to set the trial within 30 days of your child's first appearance in court.
If your child has been released to your custody pending trial, the law requires the judge to set the trial within 90 days of your child's first appearance in court.
If your child's case is set for trial, you and your child will be served in court with a subpoena to come back for the trial.
If your child pleads guilty at the pre-trial conference, the judge can either set the matter for sentencing at a later date or your child's attorney can waive the legal delays and request the judge to sentence your child then. What to do is a decision for your child and your child's attorney, in consultation with you.
Setting the Case for Trial
If your child's case is set for trial, you must talk to your child and your child's attorney to see if there are any witnesses who could testify at trial on your child's behalf.
If there are witnesses for your child, you must obtain the name and complete address of each witness and contact your child's attorney with this information.
The court will then issue subpoenas to have your child's witnesses appear in court at trial.
What Happens at Trial?
At a trial, the District Attorney must prove that your child committed the alleged crime. The DA must prove the case to the judge beyond a reasonable doubt.
At trial, the District Attorney must bring the police officers and any other witnesses important to the case to testify as to what your child is alleged to have done.
Your child's attorney may then question all the DA's witnesses.
At trial, your child's attorney can call witnesses on behalf of your child, to show that the wrong child was arrested, that the events happened differently then what the DA's witnesses testified to, or anything else that your child's attorney believes to be legally relevant to the case.
Also, the District Attorney may question any witnesses called to testify on behalf of your child.
Your child is not required to testify at trial at all.
The decision for your child to testify to be made by your child after consultation with your child's attorney.
If your child chooses to testify at trial, the District Attorney is allowed to question your child about the facts of the case and about whether your child has ever been convicted of a crime previously.
After hearing all the testimony and evidence, the judge will make a decision.
If the judge determines that the DA has not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then your child goes free and the case is dismissed.
The judge may find that the DA has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will adjudicate your child to be a delinquent. This means that the judge has found your child guilty of committing the offense.