The Juvenile Justice system is separate and distinct from the adult criminal justice system. It is essentially a civil process with a treatment component designed for quick, targeted intervention as the best approach to changing behavior of young offenders. In Michigan, as in all states, the primary goal of the Juvenile Justice System is rehabilitation, usually achieved through probation oversight, intensive counseling, education and guidance. Punishment is not a factor, unlike adult criminal prosecution. This focus encompasses not only a desire to decrease recidivism, but to encourage our youth to make better choices, to avoid criminal or delinquent behavior, and to become productive members of society. Paramount in our handling of delinquency cases are considerations for public safety, upholding community values and standards, and protecting the interests of victims.
Terms of Art
Delinquency cases used different labels than adult criminal cases. The person charged is called a Respondent, not a defendant. Charges are Offenses, not crimes. A respondent is Adjudicated, not convicted. After an adjudication, a judge imposes orders against a respondent at a Disposition hearing, not a sentencing.
Our brochure on the juvenile delinquency case process provides a general outline. As with adult cases, a prosecutor authorizes a delinquency petition only after a thorough police investigation. If a petition is authorized, the first hearing is a Preliminary Inquiry, similar to an adult court arraignment, where the minor is told what offenses have been issued; a court-appointed attorney may be requested; a decision on diverting the case through the Consent Calendar process is discussed; or a guilty plea can be entered. If a plea is not entered, the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. If the case is not resolved at this hearing, a jury or judge trial will be scheduled. If the minor is adjudicated (convicted) through a plea or trial verdict, a disposition (sentencing) hearing will be held after the probation department has investigated the youth's needs. The disposition hearing typically results in the youth being placed on probation, and lives at home. If the youth is removed from the parent's care, review hearings will be held in court to monitor the youth's progress and whether continued out-of-home placement is needed.
Informal Docket / Consent Calendar
The prosecutor may agree to divert a formal delinquency prosecution through Consent Calendar probation. This is common for first-time misdemeanor offense cases, but is an option for almost any offense. A probation order tailored to the youth's needs is agreed to by the youth and parents, prosecutor and court. If the youth successfully completes this informal probation, the case is dismissed. If Consent Calendar is revoked -- usually due to probation violations or new offenses being issued -- the case moved to the Formal Calendar where a trial is scheduled on the original charges, or a guilty plea is entered, followed by a Disposition hearing.
Disposition Hearing Options
Judges have wide latitude to impose terms that are focused on the youth's individual rehabilitation needs. The label or level of the adjudicated offense does not affect the judge's options. Typically, the youth is allowed to live at home while completing a probation period overseen by a probation officer, and must complete programs like counseling, drug/alcohol testing, community services, etc. In most cases, probation is completed in 6-9 months, but by law the court can keep a delinquent youth under court order until their 19th birthday, regardless of how old they were when the case began.
If placement in the community (even with restrictions like tether) will not protect society from continued violations of law or protect the youth from harmful acts, the court may order more restrictive placement. Eaton County is fortunate to have an array of local programs hosted at our Youth Facility in Charlotte, including Day Treatment, Community Based Treatment, and Residential Treatment, the latter being the most-restrictive option. Each program involves on-site schooling and counseling, and is completed only when the youth has earned a specified unit of program days. Probation oversight continues while the youth transitions back into the community.
The Prosecuting Attorney's Office determines not just whether to issue against the youth, and what offenses or charges, but also in rare and serious cases whether the youth should be prosecuted as an adult due to felonious conduct.
- Delinquency prosecution: Prosecutors issue delinquency petitions against persons under 17 years of age who have committed an illegal act which, if committed by an adult, would be considered a criminal offense, such as a felony, misdemeanor, or ordinance offense.
- Status offenses: Prosecutors issue petitions in Family Court against minors who have committed offenses which are only illegal due to the offender's age. Examples of status offenses include truancy, running away from home, and incorrigibility.
- Designation Proceedings: Prosecutors may issue petitions in Family Court that "designate" a specified felony offense, which results in an adult conviction, not a delinquency adjudication. The judge has a range of options to either impose a juvenile-type disposition plan focused on rehabilitation and not punishment; or to impose a 'blended sentence' that delays the case with probation-like terms to give the youth a chance to prove his ability to be rehabilitated; or to impose a purely adult sentence, which may include county jail or state prison incarceration. Specified felonies include First or Second Degree Murder, Attempted Murder, Assault With Intent to Commit Murder, Assault with Intent to Maim, Assault With Intent to Rob While Armed, Criminal Sexual Conduct First Degree, Carjacking, Armed Robbery, Kidnapping, or Arson First Degree.
- Automatic Waiver (Prosecution as Adult): Prosecutors may file criminal charges directly in adult court against youths aged 14 to 16 who committed a "specified felony." All proceedings are held in the District and Circuit Court Criminal Division, not the Family Court, and the process unfolds the same as an adult crime. Convictions are "adult convictions". Sentences on "specified felonies" must be imposed as if the youth was an adult defendant; but sentences for other felony crimes can be imposed like a juvenile disposition plan with periodic reviews to determine if the youth's failure to be rehabilitated makes the case appropriate to be imposed like an adult sentence, including county jail or state prison incarceration.