Juvenile Delinquency Process
Generally, cases involving youths under 17 years of age are under the jurisdiction of the Family Division of the Circuit Court. This includes but is not limited to the following types of offenses:
- Cases involving acts committed by youths under the age of 17 that would be considered misdemeanor or felony criminal offenses if committed by an adult, including Motor Vehicle Code violations such as Operating While Intoxicated, Driving on a Suspended License, and Operating without Insurance, etc.
- Civil infractions
- Status offenses
Generally, the Court maintains authority to enter orders affecting delinquent youths and their parents until the youth reaches 19 years of age. Jurisdiction can be extended to the age of 21 for specific life-sentence felonies, such as Murder and Criminal Sexual Conduct.
Typically, a Petition for a misdemeanor of felony offense is filed by the county prosecutor, who reviews the police report and decides whether to file a Petition with Family Court stating the charge against the youth. Citations for misdemeanor or felony offenses issued by police officers also become Petitions when filed with Family Court.
Status offense petitions may also be filed by parents, guardians, or school truancy officers. Status offenses are those offenses that would not apply to an adult. The three status offenses are Runaway, School Truancy, and Incorrigibility. The Court can take jurisdiction of status offenders but cannot, upon initial disposition (sentencing), place the youth in detention or remove the youth from their home. However, if the youth later violates probation, detention may be ordered.
Once a Petition is filed, a series of hearings take place that will determine whether the Petition is acceptable and whether the child should be held prior to trial.
Inquiries & Intake Hearings
The court may request an Inquiry before a referee. These hearings allow the Court to gather more information from the youth, their family, and / or service providers to determine how to proceed with a Petition. After an Inquiry Hearing, the Petition may be dismissed, referred to alternate services, or scheduled for a Preliminary Hearing.
Alternate services may include impact panels, counseling, victim/offender mediation, court-imposed curfew, community service, or any other activities or services deemed appropriate. In some cases, diversion to alternate services is ordered at an Intake Hearing where the victim(s) and prosecutor are given opportunity to object to the recommendation for diversion. If diversion to alternate services is ordered, once the services are completed, the Petition against the youth is not authorized and is not a public record. If the services are not completed, the Petition against the youth may be scheduled for a Preliminary Hearing on the formal court docket.
The Preliminary Hearing is the first formal court hearing where a youth is advised of the charges against them and their constitutional rights, including the right to legal representation. If the youth has not retained an attorney, the Court will appoint one. The Court determines whether there are sufficient facts to support the charge and then either authorizes or dismisses the Petition. If the Court authorizes the Petition at the Preliminary Hearing, a plea may be entered, and then the case will move on to the dispositional (sentencing) phase. If the Petition is authorized and a plea is not entered, the Court will schedule the next hearing, called a Pre-Trial Conference. Pending the adjudication phase, the youth may be detained in the Juvenile Transition Center, given a bond, placed on tether, and/or referred to community-based services.
If the charge is a minor, first-time offense, the Court may divert the youth and refer them to alternative services, which is an informal disposition of the case that does not appear on the public record.
The purpose of the Pre-trial Conference is to determine if the case can be resolved by a plea or whether a trial is necessary. The prosecutor may make an offer of a reduced charge or number of charges for which the youth can admit responsibility. The family court officer usually advises what disposition will be recommended. At that point, the youth can make the decision to admit guilt or go to trial.
Adjudication (Finding of Responsibility)
Adjudication occurs when the youth is found guilty either through a plea or at a trial. The youth can have a bench trial or a jury trial. At a bench trial, the judge or referee listens to witness testimony, reviews documents and other evidence, and decides whether the youth is guilty or not. At a jury trial, a jury decides if the youth is guilty or not. In any trial, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the youth is found responsible for the charge, a Disposition Hearing is scheduled.
Disposition is the sentencing phase of the court process. Prior to the Disposition Hearing, a family court officer investigates the youth's background by interviewing the youth, family members, school authorities, and others. The family court officer consults with the youth and family in developing a proposed Case Service Plan. At the Disposition Hearing, the family court officer will submit recommendations along with the Case Service Plan to the Court. The Court will then order services and programs as appropriate.
The Court has a number of alternatives, including any of the following:
- Warn the youth and dismiss the court's jurisdiction
- Place the youth on probation
- Place the youth at home on tether, in the Juvenile Transition Center, or in a foster or residential placement
- Waive the case to criminal court
- Order parents to participate in treatment or not act in ways harmful to the youth
- Order the youth and parents to pay full restitution to the victim
- Order the youth and parents to pay fines, fees, and costs, including reimbursement to the Court for court services, e.g., probation, detention costs, other programs, and court appointed attorney fees
Driver's license sanctions may also be imposed by the Court or by the Secretary of State.
Victims of crimes may submit a Victim Impact Statement to the Court. They may also speak at an intake meeting and Disposition Hearings to explain how the crime has affected them and make recommendations to the Court.
If the youth is placed on probation, a family court officer from the Family Division will be assigned. A Case Service Plan Meeting will be held with the youth, their parents, and other service providers to determine specific services and terms of probation. This plan is individualized and intended to rehabilitate the youth. The plan may include, among other things, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, random drug testing, school programs, or community service. The youth and their parents work directly with the family court officer to update the plan and ensure that the terms of probation are completed as ordered by the Court.
If the youth violates their court order or Case Service Plan, the Court may order additional services or programs. If the family court officer files a Petition for a violation of probation, the youth may plead guilty or have a hearing where either the judge or referee will decide if the youth violated probation. There is no right to a jury trial for this type of hearing.
Court orders are the controlling documents throughout the life of the case. They will give direction to the youth, family, and family court officers. Orders must be followed or the youth may face legal consequences. Depending on the seriousness of the case and the cooperativeness of the youth and family, consequences range from dismissal of a charge to sending the youth to be tried in the adult criminal justice system. It is important to understand that the Court's orders must be followed.
Authority Over Adults
Parents must comply with orders of the Court that affect the physical, mental, or moral well-being of the youth. The parent or guardian of the youth must attend all court hearings, unless excused for good cause. Although the court has authority over the parents, they are not a party to the case; only the youth is the party.
Parents are a very important part of the process. The Court cannot be a substitute for a parent's active involvement in the daily life of the youth. The Court expects parents to participate in their youth's rehabilitation. Examples of parent participation include:
- Consistently managing minor violations of the court's orders with appropriate discipline
- Reporting all probation violations
- Attending all court meetings and hearings
- Communicating honestly and openly with the family court officer
- Providing transportation for court-ordered programs
- Attending all school conferences, keeping in regular contact with school staff, and monitoring the youth's progress via PowerSchool
- Knowing the whereabouts of the youth at all times
- Informing court/school of the youth's absences and illnesses
- Attending counseling or other court-ordered programs and services
- Complying with the Court's orders
Show Cause Hearing
At a Show Cause Hearing, a parent or guardian appears before a judge or referee to explain their action or failure to take action. The main objective of a Show Cause Hearing is to get a party who is not following a court order to do so. A parent or guardian can be found in contempt of court for failure to follow a court order, and a judge can impose penalties, including monetary fines or even jail time.
Court services will be provided regardless of ability to pay; however, financial reimbursement is expected. Michigan law allows the court to obtain reimbursement from the parents and/or the youth for any expenses incurred while the youth is involved with the court. This may include the costs of detention, probation fees, clothing, psychological testing, medical and dental costs, eye care, counseling, etc. Income levels are taken into account in assessing fees and creating payment plans once the parents' or guardians' incomes have been verified. The court may also garnish wages, seize property, assess additional penalties such as late fees or fines, or order jail time for failure to pay as ordered.