In Nelson County, as in the rest of Kentucky, a juvenile can be charged with a crime. The process, however, is different for juveniles than it is for adults. The terminology is also somewhat different in juvenile court than in adult court. For instance, a trial in juvenile court is called an “adjudication” and sentencing is called “disposition”.
In juvenile court, proceedings are confidential and are therefore closed to the public. All juvenile proceedings are held before the District Judge. There are no jury trials in juvenile court. As in adult trials, witnesses testify, but a Judge determines the truth or falsity of the charges. If guilt is established, the Judge sets the punishment and usually makes the decision with input from the prosecutor and representatives of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Possible sentences may include, but are not limited to, restitution to victims, counseling, public service, or confinement in a juvenile detention center.
Juvenile prosecution and child dependency, neglect and abuse cases are prosecuted by this office. These types of cases are different from cases normally seen in court or on television. All matter handled in juvenile court are confidential therefore we cannot discuss specific cases but below is a brief outline of how this system operates.
When a juvenile is charged with a crime he/she is brought before the Nelson District Court to answer for that charge. The juvenile is entitled to an attorney in all prosecution. The goal in juvenile cases is to rehabilitate and teach juveniles that their actions are not appropriate in today’s society. This is often achieved by the juvenile performing community service, seeking counseling for certain unacceptable choices or behaviors and/or monitoring through either the court system or the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Juveniles may also be charged with a Status Offense. A status offense is an offense based upon the juvenile’s age. These include Beyond the Control of Parent or School, Habitual Runaway, Habitual Truant and certain tobacco and alcohol offenses. The County Attorney’s Office also helps in child dependency, abuse or neglect cases most typically where the Cabinet of Health and Family Services (commonly referred to as child protective services) has filed a petition alleging that a parent or guardian has allowed their child to become abused or neglected as defined in KRS 600.020(1) or dependent as defined in KRS 600.020(19). In these cases the parent or guardian and children are entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one. These cases are heard before the Judge of the Nelson District Court and if proven lead to involvement and case planning with the Cabinet of Health and Family Services. If you believe you know of a child who has been neglected or abused you may call the intake hotline at 1-800-752-6200.
BEGINNING THE PROCESS – THE COURT DESIGNATED WORKER
When a juvenile is accused of committing an offense, those complaints are taken through the Court Designated Worker. The Court Designated Worker (CDW) is an intake officer who takes the information from the concerned party. The police, parents/guardians, individuals or school personnel can bring complaints against juveniles. Regardless of who wants to take a complaint against a juvenile, charges start with the CDW. In Nelson County, the CDW’s phone number is (502) 348-6000. It is only after the CDW takes the complaint that this information is relayed to the County Attorney, who then decides what, if any, charges should be filed and whether those charges should go before the judge. If charges are filed, the CDW will schedule an appointment with the juvenile and his or her parent or guardian. Some charges can be resolved at this level without court involvement.
If the charges cannot be resolved at the CDW level, an arraignment is held before the judge. At the arraignment, the charges are read and the juvenile has an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. In juvenile court, a guilty plea is called “admitting the petition true” and a not guilty plea is called “denying the petition”. The court may provide an attorney for the juvenile depending on the financial circumstances of the family. If a “not guilty” plea is entered, the case is set for an adjudication or trial.
WHAT CAN A JUVENILE BE CHARGED WITH?
Offenses committed by persons under the age of 18 are separated into two basic categories. An offense that is only actionable because of the juvenile’s status as a minor, are called “status” offenses. These include such things as being beyond the control of parents or teachers, running away or being truant from school.
When a juvenile commits an offense that is criminal regardless of how old the offender is, it is charged as a “public” offense. These types of offenses are those commonly known by the public, i.e, burglary, vandalism, theft, assault, etc.The punishments or consequences given by the judge for public and status offenses are usually related to the severity of the offenses, the age of the accused and any prior history.
CHARGED AS AN ADULT-YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS
In extreme circumstances, those accused of very serious public offenses may be tried as an adult. Under Kentucky law, any felony offense committed by a juvenile using a gun will automatically be tried as an adult. Additionally, very serious felonies may or may not be treated as adult crimes depending upon circumstances examined by the county attorney, with the final decision being made by the District Court Judge. Juveniles accused of repeated lesser felonies may also be tried as adults at the discretion of the District judge.
In most cases, juveniles accused of offenses are not held in a detention facility pending their adjudication. (trial) The judge may, however, order a “Fast Track” order. Fast Track orders are a mechanism by which juveniles can be rapidly brought before the court. A Fast Tract order, simply put, is an order that threatens the juvenile with a contempt of court charge if they fail to follow certain rules. A Fast Track Order usually mandates that the accused follow specific rules, i.e. obeying parents, attending school, not doing drugs or alcohol, and not breaking laws. If the judge receives information that his order has been violated, the juvenile will usually be picked up by the police and detained (in a juvenile jail) while waiting to see the judge for a contempt of court hearing. If the juvenile is found in contempt of court, a wide range of consequences are available to the Judge, including continued confinement.