Guide to Juvenile Court

Who is a Juvenile?

Illinois law defines a delinquent minor as one who prior to his 18th birthday violates or attempts to violate federal, state, or local law. Once you reach your 18th birthday, the law treats you as an adult.

What happens when a juvenile is arrested?

One thing that may occur is that you 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 detention, then there must be a detention hearing within 40 hours of arrest. At the detention hearing, the judge will decide if the minor will remain in custody awaiting trial. In making that decision, the judge must determine if there is probable cause to believe that the minor committed a crime. If the court finds “probable cause,” then the judge must decide to hold the minor in custody or let the minor go home before trial. The judge can also put the minor on electronic monitoring, home confinement, or in a shelter awaiting trial. In making the decision to release or not, the court looks to 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 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; such as, criminal history, use of drugs, home life, attendance and performance at school, attitude, etc. The Court then decides the sentence. Basically, 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; 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 a number of factors which include the seriousness of the charge and the minor’s behavior 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 years or older at the time of the alleged offense, the minor is automatically treated as an adult.  This means that the minor is tried in a court of adult jurisdiction and, if convicted, will receive an adult penalty. These are called "automatic transfers" because the law requires that the minor be tried in adult court.  Some of the offenses for which a minor can be automatically transferred are first degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and aggravated criminal sexual assault.

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 prosecuted for first degree murder, or cases where minors age 15 and 16 are charged with shooting at someone. The judge looks at the minor's age, social history, ( Social history includes a detailed history of the minor's family, any history of abuse or neglect, any history of documented mental illness or mental health interventions, any history of other services and  the minor's educational history) the seriousness of the alleged offense and the minor's alleged level of participation in such offense. During the hearing, the judge may listen to the testimony of teachers, clergy, family members, and the recommendation of probation officers in deciding whether to keep a minor at Juvenile Court or transfer his or her case to adult criminal court. The decision is very important. For example, one minor charged with aggravated battery with a firearm was transferred to adult court and sentenced at age 16 to 50 years in prison. Had he remained at juvenile Court he could not have been imprisoned beyond his 21st birthday.

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