Back to School: Juvenile Court

Since the tragedy at Columbine High School twelve years ago, schools have cracked down on student misbehavior, adopting "zero tolerance" policies for everything from idle threats to fights between students to even pranks. Police involvement in student discipline, unheard of in years past, is unfortunately becoming more and more commonplace. In addition, concerns over teenage drivers have led the Ohio General Assembly to adopt traffic laws that treat juvenile traffic offenders much differently than adult drivers. As a result, it is no longer unusual for even the best and brightest kids to end up before a juvenile court judge.

Juvenile court, while similar to adult courts, has some important differences to keep in mind. First and foremost, the juvenile's parents or guardian are automatically made a party to the case, meaning that a parent or guardian must accompany the juvenile to every court proceeding. It is important to note that charges brought against minors in Juvenile court are not criminal offenses, but are rather referred to as delinquencies, meaning that a juvenile must be tried as an adult in order to go to jail or prison. But despite the charges not being punishable by jail or prison, if a minor is found to be delinquent by a juvenile court judge (minors do not have a right to trial by jury!), that child may be temporarily removed from the home to a detention center, may be required to pay fines or perform community service, or may even have his or her driver's license or right to apply for a driver's license suspended until their twenty-first birthday. Any or all of these penalties can be applied in any delinquency, no matter how minor.

Juvenile traffic offenses are also treated differently from their adult counterparts. While most adult offenses are handled in municipal courthouses, and are punishable by a fine of up to $150, a juvenile traffic offense is brought before the juvenile court. Like delinquencies, a parent or guardian is a party to the case and is required to accompany the child to all proceedings. If the child is convicted, the judge may not only fine the juvenile driver but may also immediate suspend the juvenile's license and require the juvenile to attend a remedial driver's education course at the child or parent's expense. While the judge may grant limited driving privileges for a suspended license to allow the child to drive to school or work, the judge does not have to do so. Instead of a license suspension, drivers under seventeen years old who receive a traffic ticket may be required to have a parent accompany them while driving, essentially reverting their license back into a learner's permit.

If your child is charged with a delinquency, or even receives a traffic ticket, your child and you as a parent or guardian each have a right to an attorney. Consulting an attorney can assist you in protecting your child's rights and ensuring fair treatment at all stages of juvenile court proceedings.