Underage Drinking And Other Juvenile Status Offenses
For as long as there have been laws prohibiting minors from doing certain things that are legal for adults, there have been minors dedicated to breaking those laws. In the legal world, these are known as “juvenile status offenses”. It means conduct that would not be a crime if it were committed by an adult.
Some of these offenses are more serious than others, but they all can lead to juvenile detention if the offender and/or their guardians fail to correct the behavior quickly.
Types Of Juvenile Status Offenses
While the type of conduct that constitutes a juvenile status offense varies from state to state, the most common status offenses include:
- Truancy (Skipping School)
- Violating city or county curfews
- Underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol
- Underage possession and/or consumption of tobacco
- Running away
- Ungovernability (Being beyond the control of parents or guardians)
In an average year, approximately 20% of all juvenile arrests involve status offenses.
Processing Juvenile Status Offenses
Prior to the 1974 Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, juvenile status offenses were handled exclusively through the juvenile justice system. Since that act was passed however, prosecutors have been given broad discretion on how to handle juvenile cases.
What this means is that prosecutors can (and frequently do) divert cases away from juvenile court and instead refer them to other government agencies that provide services to at-risk youth.
Different states approach status offenses in a number of different ways. In some states, a child who commits a status offense may end up in juvenile court. In other jurisdictions, the state’s child welfare agency is the first to deal with the problem.
Some states have increased the use of residential placement for offenders, and others emphasize community-based programs. But, in all states, if informal efforts and programs fail to remedy the problem, the young person will end up in juvenile court.
Penalties For Juvenile Status Offenses
In cases where juveniles do end up in court for a status offense, the courts–much like the prosecutors–have fairly broad discretion on what kinds of penalties to impose. With that said, common penalties for juvenile status offenses include things like:
- Driver’s license suspension
- Paying fines and/or restitution
- Mandatory counseling or education programs
- Placing the offender in the care of a relative, foster home, or group home
If a juvenile violates a court order, most courts have the authority to order the juvenile’s detention at a secure, locked facility. And, in some states, courts can require the juvenile’s parents to attend counseling sessions or parenting classes.
Working With A Juvenile Attorney
While status offenses are rarely as serious as “real” crimes committed by minors, they can have a lasting impact on the offender and their family.
Working with an experienced juvenile defense attorney can help to further reduce any penalties, fines, or other punishments the courts may be considering.
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