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    What is a juvenile delinquent?

    Date: 09.07.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Words and phrases differ between the juvenile and adult justice systems. There′s a long-standing philosophy that children who break the law are to be nurtured and rehabilitated, not punished as criminals. Consequently, the language isn′t as harsh when referring to a juvenile offender. Here′s how the two “languages” compare:

    In the juvenile system… In the adult system…
    juvenile defendant
    adjudication hearing trial
    disposition hearing sentencing
    detention jail
    department of juvenile corrections prison
    delinquent act crime
    delinquent criminal

    Each state has its own criminal code that applies to everyone. However, when a child breaks one of the criminal laws, he or she is dealt with in the juvenile justice system. If adjudicated on the charge, he or she is referred to as a delinquent.  delinquent2It is important to note that 90% of teen offenders do not become adult offenders.

    Another term closely associated with delinquency is incorrigibility. This only applies to minors—anyone under the age of majority (eighteen in most states). Any minor found guilty of a status offense is considered an incorrigible child.

    If you′re a truant, a runaway, disobedient, a curfew violator, or someone who uses or possesses alcohol or tobacco products, you may be declared by the court to be incorrigible. If this happens, you may be placed on probation for a period of time, usually six to twelve months. Whatever the problems and issues are at home, services will be provided to help you out.  If you find yourself  in this situation, work with the counselors and probation officers so you can get on with your life.

    More and more states are expecting parents to exercise control over their children. Parental responsibility laws are being passed, and they carry civil and criminal penalties for violation. In 1996, the parents of a teenager in Michigan were found guilty of parental irresponsibility in supervising their son. Sixteen-year-old Alex was described as a one-boy crime wave. In his bedroom were a stolen gun, alcohol, and marijuana plants. He burglarized churches and threatened his father with a golf club. Alex was sentenced to one year in lockup, while his parents were fined $100 each and ordered to pay $1,000 in court costs.

    “My heroes are the ones who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them.”   -Bono, lead singer of U2 and humanitarian


    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    13 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • julie
      Thu, 04 Jun 2009 at 08:42

      the group is wondering if juvenile delinquents’ records are expunged at 18, & if so, who still has access to these records?

      Judge Tom’s Response:
      Each state has its own laws regarding the destruction or expungement of juvenile records. Usually, the juvenile has to apply to the court for this to happen. In some states, you have to be older [19 or 21, for example] before you apply. It can also be older if the crime was a felony [for example, it’s age 25 for a felony in Arizona]. Until expunged the records are available to courts and law enforcement. They are not public records in most states.

    • julie
      Mon, 08 Jun 2009 at 06:29

      is it possible to have records sealed after turning 18?

      Judge Tom’s Response:
      Each state has its own laws about sealing and destroying [called ‘expunging’] juvenile records. Courts seal records when there is a good reason, for example, protecting the name or confidentiality of a minor depending on the nature of the case. Also adoption records are usually unavailable to the public. It’s best to check your local laws on this very specific area.

    • Kim
      Wed, 05 Aug 2009 at 07:20

      What rights does a parent have when a child who is on probation. The child walks out of the house and thinks that he can come and go as he pleases. Part of the terms of his probation state that he has to obey the lawful orders of the parent. I am getting no help from his probation officer. She just says that I basically have to let him live in my house but he keeps running away and disrupting the lives of everyone in the household

      Judge Tom’s response:
      You’re right – a standard term of probation for a juvenile requires that he or she obey the lawful orders of their parents. Refusing to do so usually results in a violation of probation with increasing consequences. If you’re not getting anywhere with your son’s probation officer, ask to speak with her supervisor? Your son shouldn’t be allowed to flaunt the law or disregard his probation terms. Good luck.

    • Vicki
      Mon, 12 Apr 2010 at 09:34

      In a juvenile delinquency case can a parent have a warrant(failure to appear) issued on them if they a.) was not party nor witness to case b.) was not summoned or ordered to appear c.) at time warrant issued had not missed any court dates? I did violate my son’s intrium probation by moving back to my home state ( says he must get permission from probo for absences of 2wks ) however did inform his attorney.
      Dear Vicki: The basis of a warrant depends on the facts of the case. If a judge issued a warrant for your arrest, it is because you violated an order or a term of release in your son’s case. You might want to contact his probation officer or a lawyer to resolve this rather than being arrested on the warrant. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Eileen
      Thu, 27 May 2010 at 11:34

      My son is 15 yrs old and on Probation for fighting with his younger brother 12 in our household. he has 12 months probation in NYC. I sent him to live with his dad in Nashville because he was threatened to sell marijuana which explained his behaivoral changes. He is a good student and never been introuble with the law outside the home. this was his only arrest. I felt is was the best thing to live with his dad. Now they are saying they might violate him. I am a single mother and feel no support form the system. My best interest is with my son. What can I do so they won’t violate him? cant they put in for a transfer?
      Dear Eileen: In order to prevent further charges [violation of probation for leaving the state, etc] make an appointment with his probation officer and explain the situation. Court orders are not to be ignored or intentionally violated. Now that he’s left the state, you might be able to obtain a modified probation order allowing him to remain with his father. You should also speak with his lawyer if he had one when he was before the court. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Rachelle Navarro
      Thu, 12 Aug 2010 at 01:29

      I teach Life Skills at a juvenile detention center in the state of Florida. We are about to wrap up a unit of “Career Exploration” and my students have a couple of questions I cannot answer:

      1. In the state of Florida, what happens to a juvenile’s record when he/she turns 18?

      2. On a job application, what do they check when asked about arrests, etc. before and after they turn 18?

      Thank you in advance for your reply.

      Ms. Navarro
      Dear Ms. Navarro: Take a look at this web site for information about Florida laws and juvenile records:


      Because state laws and criminal rules frequently change, especially when the legislatures are in session, we can provide you with current information only by referring you to your local database. You could also Google “Florida juvenile records” for mor details about expungement and destruction of records.

      On any application, whether it’s for the military, employment or school, all questions must be answered truthfully. The applicant should read every question carefully because language is very important. For example, if the question asks about “convictions” the juvenile may not have been convicted if he or she was handled in the juvenile system where they are “adjudicated” responsible for an offense. They may have delinquent offenses on their record but no criminal convictions for a felony or misdemeanor. States have their own terminology separating the adult criminal process with the juvenile justice system. Good luck and thanks for helping our youth get through their teen years.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Erika Mack
      Thu, 03 Feb 2011 at 11:09

      I live in UT and have a 17 year old son who’s been on and off probation and in and out of detention for the better part of 6 years. He is currently on probation. If, at his next hearing, the Judge determines that he will be on probation even when he turns 18 in June, do I have to let him live in my house? We been through just about everything with him and I am beyond weary.
      Thanks, Erika
      Dear Erika: As you know the age of majority in Utah is 18. However, your state’s laws regarding juveniles under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court may change this while your son is on probation. Ask his probation officer about this. The judge at the next hearing may be authorized to extend his probation beyond 18 depending on applicable laws. Explain the situation to the judge who will have his six-year history in the file and be able to take your position into consideration. Good luck. Let us know what happens.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • Christopher Fassih
      Thu, 24 Feb 2011 at 03:12

      Hello. I am a 15 year old high school student. When I was in middle school, me and my friend thought it was funny to vandalize private property, which resulted in probation + a 5th degree felony for me and my friend.

      I am off of probation now, but I have a felony on my record. I can’t get my driver license, apply for college, or get a professional job until that felony is removed. I am really frightened at the possibility of the felony sticking to my record. I know that I can get it removed when I turn 18, but how exactly? Will I go to the court house place, go to the front desk, ask to file a petition to get the felony taken off of my record, and then how long do I wait? Does having good grades and no bad behavior in school affect how the petition goes through? I am really not a bad kid and if I never get the felony off my record, I don’t know what I would do
      Dear Christopher: Every state has its own laws about clearing your record, including a juvenile record. There are several things you can do. You can call your former probation officer and ask about this. You can also call the court you were in and ask. If you had a lawyer at the time, call him or her. You can also Google the name of your state and the words “juvenile records” or “juvenile expungement” and you’ll see what’s involved. You may have to wait until you’re 18 or possibly older to apply for expungement depending on the laws in your state. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Heather
      Sun, 18 Sep 2011 at 12:39

      My 11 year old son was kicked off the public school bus after tring to strangle is sister and delayed route, he has a don’t care attitude about things. What would be the best option for him this isn’t the first time he has went after his sister, but he only behaves this way when his older brother is not around. Please help…
      Dear Heather: AsktheJudge.info is an educational website for & about teenagers and the laws that affect them. We don’t provide legal advice or professional counseling to adults or teens. It sounds as though your son could benefit from an evaluation and/or counseling to address the issues that are at the root of his aggression toward his sister. If you Google the name of your city or town and “counseling for children” you’ll find local providers. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • michelle
      Mon, 23 Apr 2012 at 09:22

      my son’s father reported our 14 year old for incorrigibilty. i disagree. what are my options. the ex is very bitter and has been provoking fights with my son , telling him to walk back to his mother’s etc. i have been suspicious that he has been trying to cause problems to build a case.
      Dear Michelle: If the incorrigibility issue is going to court, you may get a chance to speak with either a judge or a probation officer about this. Explain what you know about his school attendance and discuss it with your son. You can also speak with your own lawyer. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Beth Villalobos
      Sat, 16 Jun 2012 at 01:17

      My son is 17 he violated his probation and is now on house arrest and drug court. His probation is now extended to a year. Dilema- He turns 18 in Jan 2013 and probation/drug court is not over until June 2013. Since he was a juvenile when this happened- will everything disappear in Jan, 2013 when he turns 18?
      Dear Beth: It depends on the laws of your state but a juvenile court may have jurisdiction over a person even once they turn 18. In some states, a person under the age of 21 may continue to be under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. He should talk to his probation officer about this and find out whether his probation will end once he turns 18 or if he will have to continue his probation until June. His probation officer should be able to answer this. Good luck to your son.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Mary
      Thu, 28 Mar 2013 at 10:57

      What is my disposition if I was never called to juvenile court? I went to the San Joaquin Juvenile office and talked to a guy I think he was a probation officer and he said he was not going to send me to court to detention because I was a good kid. I still have a juvenile record but I didn’t go to court. I am filling out a petition to seal my record now so I need to know what my offense and disposition are. How can I find out?
      Dear Mary: If you had to complete community service, pay a fine, etc., then you probably completed a diversion program and therefore, do not have a record for the incident. Since you never went to court, then you most likely do not have a record. Try contacting the San Joaquin Juvenile Office and ask if you can speak to someone about this or if you can get a copy of your record. Also, here is a link about public access to court records in your county. Good luck.
      (This is information ony – not legal advice.)

    • KNN
      Sat, 27 Apr 2013 at 08:45

      I have a friend who is 16 and wishes to move in with her bestfriend who is 18. The thing is,my friend is on felony probation; its been approved by her parents and shes talked to her probation officer. Can she move in with her bestfriend that is 18? Or does she have to be off of probation?
      Dear KNN: That’s up to her probation officer. Since she’s on probation, she’s required to follow all probation terms. If she violates her probation, she’ll be back before the judge and may be facing jail time. So, she needs to run her living situation by her PO and get permission to move. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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