Guide to Juvenile Court

Who is a juvenile?

Illinois law defines a delinquent minor as one who prior to his or her eighteenth birthday violates or attempts to violate federal, state or local law. The law treats 18-year-olds as adults.

What happens when a juvenile is arrested?

One thing that may occur is that a youth can receive a station adjustment. A station adjustment means that the police make a record of an arrest, but do not refer the case to Juvenile Court. Instead, the minor is released to his or her parents or guardian. Illinois law limits the number of station adjustments that a minor can receive before the minor must be referred to court.

What happens when  a minor is arrested and the case is referred to court?

The youth officer will call the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. A point system is used to determine if a minor must be held in detention before his or her first court appearance. The point system takes into account the seriousness of the charge and the minor’s history of delinquency. If the minor doesn’t score “high”, then he or she is sent home with an order to appear in court on a certain date.

​What happens at a detention hearing?

If the minor is held in custody upon arrest there must be a detention hearing within 40 hours. First, the judge will determine whether there is probable cause to believe the minor has committed a crime. If there is a finding of probable cause, the judge will proceed to the detention hearing and decide whether to release the minor or hold them in custody at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center pending trial. The judge can release a minor with conditions such as electronic monitoring or home confinement, or order that the minor be placed in a shelter awaiting trial. In making the decision to release or not, the court considers the minor’s history of delinquency, seriousness of the alleged offense, previous failures to appear in court, and the availability of alternatives to detention.

What happens at trial?

At trial, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the minor is delinquent. The State must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt by  presenting evidence and calling witnesses. The minor does not have to prove that he or she is innocent and does not have to present any evidence, call witnesses or  testify if the minor chooses not to. However, the minor is permitted to call witnesses and testify if that is his or her desire. The minor may cross-examine the prosecution witnesses through his or her attorney and the prosecution may cross-examine the minor or his or her witnesses, if they testify. Unlike adult cases, there is usually no right to a jury trial in Juvenile Court. If the minor is found not guilty, the case is dismissed and the minor is free to leave. If the minor is found guilty, he or she must be sentenced.

What happens at a sentencing hearing?

At the sentencing hearing, the judge will read a report called a social investigation, which provides information about a minor. The social investigation includes information such as, prior delinquency history, use of drugs, home life, attendance and performance at school, and attitude. The court then decides the sentence. The judge can place the minor on probation with certain conditions, such as mandatory schooling, community service, counseling, no contact with gang members, etc.; order that the minor serve up to 30 days in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, either alone or as a condition of probation; commit the minor to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); or commit the minor to the Department of Juvenile Justice (prison) for an indeterminate amount of  time that can last until the minor reaches age 21. The Department of Juvenile Justice will determine the actual length of time to be served based on factors such as the seriousness of the charge, the minor's prior delinquency history, and the minor’s behavior while in prison.

​What does transfer to adult court mean?

Not all juveniles are prosecuted at Juvenile Court. There are laws in Illinois which either permit or require prosecution of minors as adults. This is called “transfer” to adult or criminal court. In some cases, if the charge is serious and the minor is 16 or older at the time of the alleged offense, the minor is automatically prosecuted as an adult. This means that the minor is tried in criminal court and, if convicted, will receive an adult sentence. These are called "automatic transfers" because the law requires that the minor be tried as an adult. The only offenses for which a minor can be automatically transferred are first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated battery with a firearm where the minor personally discharged the firearm.

What is a transfer hearing and when are they held?

In other types of cases, the prosecutor can ask the judge to hold a hearing to decide whether a minor should be prosecuted as an adult. These laws can be complicated, but in Cook County, the State usually asks for transfer in cases where 13- or 14-year-old minors are charged with first-degree murder, or cases where minors aged 15 and 16 are charged with shooting at someone. The judge weighs specific factors including the minor's age, history of abuse and/or neglect, mental health and educational history, the seriousness of the offense, the minor's level of participation in the offense, and the advantages of treatment within the juvenile justice system. The juvenile judge will hear evidence on all of the above factors during the hearing, and may listen to the testimony of teachers, clergy, family members and probation officers in deciding whether to keep the minor at Juvenile Court or transfer his or her case to adult court. The decision is very important. If a minor is tried as a juvenile, he or she cannot be sentenced to prison beyond their 21st birthday. However, a minor transferred to criminal court will be sentenced under much stiffer adult sentencing guidelines.

How are juvenile records expunged?

Please click here for resources and information about expungements, including information about the Juvenile Expungement Help Desk.

If an Assistant Public Defender has been appointed to represent you, you may reach your attorney at 312-433-7046.