Adjudicatory Hearing (or Adjudication)
The trial on the charges in a delinquency case is called an adjudicatory hearing or adjudication. The juvenile court judge hears the evidence and makes a determination as to whether or not a youth has committed a delinquent act. This hearing is similar to a trial in an adult criminal case, though in most states the youth cannot request a jury. At the adjudicatory hearing, the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  The youth has a right to notice of the charges, a right to counsel, a right to confront witnesses, and a right to avoid self-incrimination.
If a youth has not been detained, this will be the first court hearing in a juvenile case – in most states it has a different name, such as “initial hearing.” In this hearing, the youth is generally advised of his or her rights, the charges against him or her, and asked to admit or deny the charges.
Collateral Consequences
Refers to the consequences of juvenile court involvement that extend beyond the specific sanctions imposed by the court for youth who successfully complete their juvenile court involvement. For example, having a juvenile court record may limit a youth’s access to education, housing, public benefits or employment.
Detention Hearing
A pre-trial court hearing in which a juvenile court judge determines whether a young person should be removed from their home and  confined in a secure detention facility, shelter care, or other placement prior to their adjudication (or, if the youth has been temporarily detained, whether the youth should remain or be released until the next hearing). If not detained, the court may impose other restrictions, such as curfews or electronic monitoring. Variations on this hearing may occur when a placement facility “returns” the youth for allegedly failing to adjust in placement, or when a youth is accused of violating terms of probation.

The disposition is like the sentence in a criminal trial: it is the final outcome in a delinquency case, in which a youth has been found delinquent either through an admission (e.g., of guilt) or trial. There are generally a range of dispositions that a judge can order, including probation (which can include community-based services and treatment programs) and commitment to a juvenile facility.
Disposition Hearing
The final stage of a delinquency proceeding, after a youth pleads guilty or is found guilty by the judge in an adjudicatory hearing. At this hearing (which can occur immediately after adjudication or at a separate time), the judge balances the youth’s needs with public safety and will generally order a combination of supervision (which can range from confinement to probation) and services.
A stage of the delinquency proceeding that comes between arraignment and adjudication, in which the defense and prosecution exchange information regarding the case, such as police reports or interviews with witnesses. The information that each side must provide the other varies by jurisdiction.
Upon meeting certain criteria—usually age, type of offense committed, and a set period of time in which no new offenses have been committed—juvenile court records can be erased or “expunged” from the system, so that they do not stand in the way of obtaining employment, housing, or other services. In some jurisdictions, expungement is automatic; in most, however, someone with a juvenile court record may petition the court to erase or expunge that record. The criteria used and the types of records that can be expunged vary by jurisdiction.  Some jurisdictions have partial expungement—for example, records that may be unavailable to employers might still be available to law enforcement. Some jurisdictions refer to this as “sealing,” rather than expunging records.

A guardian-ad-litem is a person appointed by the court to represent the minor child’s best interests, and advise the court for the length of the legal action. They are often appointed for children in abuse and neglect cases and sometimes for youth in juvenile delinquency cases who are not competent to stand trial (though an attorney would still be appointed for the child as well).
“Kids-for-Cash" Scandal
From 2003 to 2008, judicial corruption in Luzerne County, PA affected more than 2500 youth. Two judges were removing youth charged with minor offenses from their homes and committing them to juvenile facilities in a corruption scandal in which they received kickbacks for placing youth in these facilities. During this time period, 54 percent of Luzerne County youth waived their right to counsel—this rate was more than 10 times the state average; 60 percent of the Luzerne County children who waived their right to counsel were removed from their homes.[1]
Parole or Probation Revocation Proceedings
Youth placed on probation or parole generally have to abide by a series of conditions. Youth who violate the terms of their court supervision (which may or may not include committing a new offense), can be brought before the court for a formal hearing to determine if their probation or parole should be revoked; the judge may then order them to secure confinement or other alternatives.

When youth are presented with a formal charge or charges against them in court, they must respond with “guilty (admit)” or “not guilty (does not admit)” (the actual terms vary by state). Before this, the judge must make sure youth understand what they’re being charged with, and inform youth of their rights and the consequences of giving up any of those rights.
Post-disposition Matters
States vary in whether juvenile courts retain jurisdiction in cases in which the court has transferred custody of the youth to a youth authority.  In those states in which juvenile courts retain jurisdiction, the court may hold additional hearings after disposition in order to assure that youth are receiving court-ordered services from probation officers and other providers; that youth are not facing unsafe or inhumane conditions in facilities; that youth are complying with court orders; and to determine whether the court’s orders need to be revised.
Pre-trial Detention Hearing
See “Detention Hearing.”

Transfer to Adult Court
Laws in certain states and localities allow judges or district attorneys to transfer a youth’s case from juvenile court to adult court for prosecution; additionally, some laws require youth be tried as adults based on the age or the offense with which they are charged. In some states, youth can petition the criminal court to waive their case back to juvenile court. “Transfer” is also known as “waiver” or “certification.”

Waiver to Adult Court
See “Transfer to Adult Court.”


[1] Juvenile Law Center, “Lessons from Luzerne County: Right to Counsel” (undated), accessed Sept. 19, 2013,; Juvenile Law Center, “Luzerne Kids-for-Cash Scandal,” last modified February 2012,
accessed September 23, 2013,

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