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Juvenile Justice System

What is the objective of the juvenile court for minors who commit unlawful acts?

The juvenile court has jurisdiction over individuals under the age of 18 who engage in unlawful conduct, with certain exceptions noted below. In contrast to the adult courts, the juvenile proceeding in this context is not a criminal proceeding designed to determine criminal responsibility and punishment but, rather, it is a civil proceeding designed to protect the child from the consequences of his or her own conduct, develop individual responsibility for unlawful behavior, rehabilitate him or her, and, at the same time, promote public safety. Minn. Stat. § 260B.001, subd. 2.


What are the categories of juvenile offenders?

Juveniles committing unlawful acts fall into one of the following categories, depending mostly on the nature of the conduct involved:

Delinquents

Individuals under the age of 18 who commit acts which would be unlawful if committed by an adult, except for certain designated offenses and all petty offenses (Minn. Stat. § 260B.007, subd. 6). An individual subject to a delinquency hearing is entitled to effective assistance of counsel. Cases involving children under the age of ten who are alleged to have committed an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult are handled as civil CHIPS (children in need of protection or services) hearings.

Petty offenders

Children who engage in conduct which is unlawful for them but not unlawful for adults, such as violating curfew, drinking, and smoking. Also included in the petty offender category are juveniles who commit petty misdemeanors and juveniles charged with their first or second nonviolent misdemeanor offense, with the exception of certain designated offenses (Minn. Stat. § 260B.007, subd. 16).

Juvenile traffic offenders

Children who violate traffic laws. In certain cases, depending on the age of the child and the nature of the traffic offense, the matter may be handled exclusively by the adult court rather than the juvenile court (Minn. Stat. § 260B.225). For example, a child 16 years old or older who is alleged to have committed a petty misdemeanor-level traffic offense or a DWI or related nonfelony offense is treated the same as an adult offender.

Juveniles certified to adult court

The juvenile court may decide that a child over the age of 14 who is accused of a particularly dangerous offense and/or has engaged in criminal conduct in the past would be handled more appropriately in the adult court. (Under Minnesota law, children under the age of 14 are considered legally incapable of committing crimes.) These alleged delinquents may be certified to adult court for criminal prosecution upon motion by the prosecutor if the juvenile court finds, after a hearing, that there is probable cause to believe the child committed a felony-level offense and that there is clear and convincing evidence that public safety is not served by handling the case in juvenile court. Once a child has been certified to the adult court for prosecution he or she may be treated like an adult defendant.

The law presumes that certain juvenile offenders will be certified to adult court for criminal prosecution. A child is subject to this presumption if:

  • the child was 16 or 17 years old at the time of the felony offense; and
  • the court finds probable cause to believe the child committed either: (1) a felony offense that would result in a presumptive commitment to prison under the sentencing guidelines and applicable statutes (generally violent or other repeat serious offenses); or (2) any felony offense while using a firearm.

In such cases, the child has the burden to rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence demonstrating that retaining the case in juvenile court serves public safety. If the child does not rebut the presumption, the court must certify the case to adult court. Minn. Stat. § 260B.125.

Extended jurisdiction juveniles

Children 14 years old or older who commit felony-level delinquent acts and are subject to adult certification and who, in the prosecutor’s or court’s opinion, would be more aptly treated by the juvenile court are designated EJJs. An EJJ designation extends the time that the court has jurisdiction over the juvenile to the age of 21. Conviction for the offense results in both a juvenile court sentence and a stayed adult court sentence. If the juvenile fails to satisfy conditions of their juvenile court sentence, their adult court sentence may be imposed, and the juvenile may be sent to adult prison. A child who is designated an EJJ has the right to a jury trial in juvenile court and the effective assistance of counsel on the issue of guilt (Minn. Stat. § 260B.130).

Juveniles age 16 and older accused of first-degree murder

A child who is alleged to have committed first-degree murder after becoming 16 years old may be charged and convicted in adult court without going through the juvenile court’s certification process, and without regard to the child’s previous criminal or juvenile record. Minn. Stat. § 609.055.


What Options Does the Court Have for Disposition, Treatment, and Placement of Juvenile Offenders?

Assuming the juvenile court retains jurisdiction over the alleged juvenile offender, and, after a hearing, determines that the child engaged in the unlawful conduct, the court has a variety of disposition options, including: fines, probation, counseling, home detention, sex offender treatment, placement out of the home, loss of driver’s license, restitution or community service, and (for delinquents only) commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections for placement in a state juvenile correctional facility. The Commissioner of Corrections is prohibited from placing in a penal institution any juvenile referred by the juvenile court. Minn. Stat. § 242.14. A juvenile petty offender may not be placed outside the home except for in-patient treatment for chemical dependency. In most cases, once a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the child lasts until the child’s 19th birthday. Minn. Stat. §§ 260B.198; 260B.225; 260B.235.

A minor may not be detained or confined in the same area as adult prisoners while in jail or lockup unless the minor has been indicted for first-degree murder, certified for trial as an adult, or convicted of a crime as an adult. Minn. Stat. § 641.14.

October 2002

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