Juvenile Court Proceedings
Any youth under the age of 17 may be petitioned to court based on a FINS (Families in Need of Services) charge or commission of a delinquent act. Each case is handled in accordance with juvenile law and procedures. The court may be called a juvenile court, family court, city court, or district court, depending on the parish where the offense occurred.
Juvenile Court Judge: The Judge is the person who presides over the case. He/she hears the evidence and makes all decisions in each case.
Bailiff: The bailiff keeps order in the courtroom. If the youth is in detention, the Bailiff may also escort the youth into the courtroom.
Clerk/Deputy Clerk of Court: The Clerk is in charge of the files and makes sure that the judge has the youth’s case file in front of him/her at the time of the hearing.
Court Reporter: The Court Reporter takes notes and records the legal record of everything that happens during the court hearing.
Youth's Attorney/Attorney appointed by the court (Public Defender): Every youth has a right to an attorney. If a youth’s family cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the youth.
Mental Health Advocate: This is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the youth if it appears that the youth has serious mental health problems or developmental disabilities.
District Attorney (DA)/Assistant District Attorney (ADA)/Prosecutor: This attorney prosecutes the youth for committing an offense. He/she represents the citizens of the state, with a primary concern for public safety.
Youth Services (YS) Attorney: The YS attorney represents OJJ’s interests at disposition and post-disposition hearings. He/she is not associated with either the district attorney or the youth’s attorney. OJJ/Youth Services’ attorney may file documents with the court to have the youth’s disposition modified.
Families in Needs of Services (FINS)
The FINS program works with youth and their families. Many of the grounds for filing a FINS petition involve conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult, but when committed by a youth is grounds for a FINS adjudication. Some examples are truancy (not attending school), being ungovernable (not obeying parents or repeatedly breaking school rules), runaway behavior (being absent from home without parental permission), violation of law by a child under age 10. An offense such as theft or shoplifting is not a FINS offense; it is a delinquent offense.
A delinquent act is an act committed by a child ten years of age or older which, if committed by an adult, would be considered criminal under the statutes or ordinances of Louisiana and/or another state or federal law, with the exception of certain traffic offenses.
A subpoena is a court order directing someone to be present in court. Failure to appear in court at the specified time may be interpreted as contempt of court by the judge.
Continued Custody Hearing
If a juvenile continues to be held in custody after he is detained, he/she must be brought before the court within 72 hours. This hearing is called a continued custody hearing, and the court determines whether there was probable cause to justify taking the youth into custody and whether there is a continued need to hold the youth. The court may set bail if the judge continues holding the juvenile. See Ch.C. Art. 823-831.
The question of a juvenile’s mental incapacity to proceed may be raised at the continued custody hearing. Mental incapacity may be raised at any of the proceedings following the continued custody hearing. Once raised, the remaining proceedings are stayed until the question is resolved. The procedure for resolving the question of mental incapacity is found in Ch.C. Art. 832-838
Petition and Answer
After an arrest, the police officer submits the arrest report to the District Attorney’s office for screening. After reviewing the report, the DA will decide whether to dismiss the case or proceed informally or formally. In some areas, the OJJ Regional Office may provide recommendations.
If the District Attorney proceeds informally, the case may be referred to a diversion program within the District Attorney’s Office or from a community provider, or the youth may be placed on Informal Adjustment Agreement (Ch.C. Art 839). In diversion, the youth attends programs designed to discourage him/her from committing additional offenses. If the youth successfully completes the program, the charge is dismissed.
The Informal Adjustment Agreement (IAA) is not considered an adjudication. This agreement is in effect for six months and outlines the terms and conditions of the youth’s supervision. When needed, the court may also extend the term for one additional period not to exceed six months. If the youth violates the terms of the agreement, the case may proceed to an adjudication hearing. If the terms are satisfied, the case may be closed (Ch.C. Art. 841).
If the District Attorney decides to pursue the case formally, he/she will file a document called a "petition", with the Clerk of Court’s office (Ch.C. Art. 842), outlining the “who, what, when, where and how” of the offense (Ch.C. Art. 844). At the Answer to Petition hearing, the youth may admit or deny the offense, or enter a response of nolo contendere (no contest). The Court will appoint an attorney at this hearing to discuss the case and offer advice to the youth.
If the youth admits to the offense, the Court may render an adjudication at that time or within 30 days of the Appearance to Answer the Petition hearing. The court may proceed with the disposition, or set a later disposition hearing. If the youth denies the offense, the court will set the matter for trial, called an adjudication hearing.
Adjudication (Ch.C. Art. 877- 887)
Youth are not "convicted,” they are "adjudicated." At the adjudication hearing, the judge hears testimony from witnesses and renders a decision. The youth does not have the right to a trial by jury. The judge may review evidence relevant to the case. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will determine if the youth should be adjudicated delinquent or FINS, based on the evidence presented.
Disposition (Ch.C. Art. 888-908)
Youth are not "sentenced," they receive a "disposition." If the judge adjudicates the youth, he/she may proceed with disposition or set a disposition hearing for a later date. Before making his/her decision, the judge may order the youth and parent/guardian to meet with the Probation and Parole Officer and discuss the case and gather information for a report called the “Pre-dispositional Investigation (PDI).
The PDI report (Ch.C. Art. 890) will include information about the offense, prior offenses committed by the youth, school records, and behavior at school and home. Based on the information received during the investigation, recommendations will be made concerning disposition.
This report will be given to the judge, district attorney’s office, and the youth’s attorney at least three days before the dispositional hearing. At the dispositional hearing, the judge listens to recommendations for treatment by the assistant district attorney and the youth’s attorney. The court will decide which recommendations it will follow or generate its own recommendations, but the court should impose the "least restrictive" disposition appropriate for the youth.
At any time after the youth is adjudicated, the court may suspend further proceedings and place the child on supervised or unsupervised probation, with or without conditions. The court may consider diversion by placing the youth on an Informal Adjustment Agreement (IAA) or a Deferred Dispositional Agreement (DDA).
An Informal Adjustment Agreement (IAA) is an agreement entered into by the youth and the prosecutor before there has been a trial or adjudication. It can last for six months. It may be extended for only another six months. If satisfied, the case may be dismissed. If not, the ADA files a petition (who, what, when, where, and how of the offense (Ch.C Art. 844).
(Ch.C. Art. 896) Deferred Dispositional Agreement (DDA). This agreement takes place after the youth has been adjudicated delinquent. This agreement remains in effect for six months unless the court releases the youth prior to the expiration date. The DDA may be extended for an additional six months or longer if the youth is a participant in a juvenile drug court. If the youth violates the terms of the DDA or a new offense is filed against the youth, the court may impose any disposition on the deferred offense(s). If the youth successfully completes the terms and conditions of the DDA, the adjudication is set aside.
Pre-Disposition Investigation (PDI) and Social History
The primary purpose of the PDI is to provide the court with timely, relevant, and accurate data in order to select the most appropriate disposition. The PDI shall be initiated after adjudication. If the court requests a PDI prior to adjudication, the youth must consent, with advice of counsel. The PDI is completed in accordance with Ch.C. Art. 890 and presented to the court prior to disposition. OJJ recommends a PDI be ordered, whenever possible.
The contents of the PDI are specified in the Children’s Code. The outline of a potential service plan identifying the major problems to be addressed is included in the PDI. Along with identifying data on youth, the following information is included:
- reason for the hearing
- whereabouts of the minor pending hearing
- the youth’s attitude regarding the offense(s)
- the parent’s attitude regarding the offense(s)
- victim impact statement
- history of prior offense(s)
- family data
- youth data
- sources of information
- evaluative summary
- brief information regarding the youth’s service plan
If the court makes a disposition without a PDI, the Probation and Parole Officer will complete a Social History within 30 days of receiving the case if the court placed the youth in OJJ custody or on probation for a period of more than six months. The contents of the Social History will be the same as the PDI, but without a recommendation. Additionally, the Probation Officer will complete a SAVRY assessment on every youth. The youth’s identified need areas will be addressed in the Individual Service Plan and documented in the case narrative. All contents of the PDI, Social History, and Supplemental Social History are confidential and shall only be released in accordance with Ch. C. Art. 891.
Informal Adjustment Agreement (IAA) or Deferred Dispositional Agreement (DDA) cases do not require a PDI, Social History, Risk Screening Document, or a service plan.
The disposition options (Ch.C. Art. 779, 897-901) available to the court for FINS, felony-grade delinquent acts, and misdemeanor-grade delinquent acts are:
- Counsel and warn the child and release him/her to the family with or without terms and conditions
- Place the youth on probation for a specified period of time, with rules and regulations for the youth to follow that may include parental cooperation
- Place the youth in the custody of OJJ for a specific period of time, suspend the sentence and require the youth to successfully complete probation
- Place the youth in OJJ custody with a recommendation for residential placement. The youth is then removed from the home and may live in a group home or similar residential setting that provides treatment to address the youth’s identified needs
- Place the youth in OJJ custody with a recommendation for secure care placement. The youth will be removed from the home and will live in a fenced, locked facility that will provide treatment to address the youth's identified needs.
OJJ is responsible for deciding on the most appropriate placement for the youth.
After the judge renders a disposition, the court will write an order (Ch.C. Art. 782, 903) detailing the disposition.
Modification of Disposition (Ch.C. Art. 786-791, 909-916)
With the exception of adjudications under Children’s Code Article 897.1, judges retain the authority to modify dispositions until the youth’s disposition has expired. When a judge does this, it is called a modification of disposition. Any person involved in the case can request a modification from the court, including the District Attorney, the youth’s attorney, the youth, his/her parents, or the Probation and Parole Officer. Usually when the District Attorney requests a modification it will be to impose more conditions or to revoke the youth’s probation and send him to a more restrictive placement. If the youth’s attorney requests modification, he/she is more likely requesting the court to change or eliminate the conditions or return the youth home.
Once the court places the youth in OJJ custody/care with a recommendation for residential or secure care placement, a court order must be prepared and signed and filed by the court. A true copy must be given to the Probation and Parole Officer.