THE CROSSROADS OF THE MIDWEST
Q: What are the various types of filings in Juvenile Court, and what do they mean?
A: The York County Attorney's Office is responsible for enforcement of Nebraska's Juvenile Code as it applies to the following occurrences within York County:
- Abuse/Neglect Petitions: Children who have been subjected to abuse and/or neglect by their parent, guardian, or custodian. Children who have been placed in protective custody and/or foster care due to suspected abuse and/or neglect.
- Dependency Petitions: Children who need to be placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services due to illness or disabilities involving themselves or their parents.
- Delinquency Petitions: Children who are charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses and have been street released to their parents, or have been referred or transferred to Juvenile Court after being cited or arrested.
- Status Petitions: Children who have not been arrested or charged with a crime, but are at risk because of truancy, uncontrollable behavior, or behavior that is harmful to themselves or others.
Q: What are the differences between Adult Court and Juvenile Court?
A: In Juvenile Court, cases are heard by a judge, not a jury. However, the same Rules of Evidence that apply in Adult Court apply in Juvenile Court. In cases where a juvenile is alleged to have committed a criminal offense or is alleged to be truant or uncontrollable, the prosecution must prove that the charge is true by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases where a child has been abused or neglected by a parent or when the child is a dependent child, the prosecution must prove that the charges are true by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the charge is more likely true than not true.
The main differences between Adult Court and Juvenile Court occur at the Sentencing or Disposition phase of the proceedings. In Juvenile Court, the Judge cannot sentence an individual to a term of incarceration or fine the individual a certain amount of money.
Possible penalties for juvenile offenses range from:
In abuse or neglect cases, the parent(s) is ordered to participate in a plan of services designed to correct the conditions of abuse or neglect.
Q: What do the various court terms in Juvenile Court mean?
A: While juvenile court utilizes many of the same proceedings as Adult Court, frequently those proceedings have different names.
When a law enforcement officer has sufficient evidence to believe that a juvenile has committed a criminal offense, the officer can issue a citation to a juvenile. The Citation is then referred to the prosecutor to determine if charges should be filed in court. This process is typically called a "referral." In matters involving abuse or neglect of a child, law enforcement officers or the Department of Health and Human Services submit reports regarding their investigation to the prosecutor to determine if a petition should be filed in court.
"Petition" means the official court document that begins a juvenile court proceeding. It can allege that the juvenile committed a law violation, or was truant or uncontrollable. A petition is also the document that alleges child neglect or abuse, or that a child is a dependent child.
"First Appearance" is like an adult court arraignment. It is the initial court appearance in Juvenile Court. At the first appearance hearing, the Court will advise the juvenile and parent(s) of their legal rights and possible consequences if the petition is found to be true.
In Juvenile Court, the juvenile alleged to have committed the offense, or the parent accused of abusing or neglecting a child, may enter an Admission, a Denial, or a plea of No Contest to the juvenile court petition. An admission is the same as a guilty plea. A denial is the equivalent of a not guilty plea. A plea of "no contest" means that the juvenile does not challenge or contest the charges. For purposes of disposition or sentencing, the Court will treat the "no contest" plea the same as an admission.
"Adjudication" is the same as a trial. If the juvenile, or the parent accused of abusing or neglecting a child, enters a denial to the allegations contained in the petition, then a formal hearing is scheduled. At the formal hearing, the Prosecutor presents testimony from witnesses and other evidence to the Court in an attempt to prove that the allegations of the petition are true. The juvenile, or an attorney representing the juvenile, can question the prosecution's witnesses. The juvenile may also present witnesses and evidence in his/her own defense. When a parent is accused of abusing or neglecting a child, each parent (if not represented by an attorney), or the parent's attorney has the same rights of cross-examination and presentation of witnesses and evidence.
At an "Informal" hearing, the person will "Admit" that the allegations are true.
"Disposition" is the equivalent of an adult court sentencing. After the Judge finds that the allegations of the petition are true, the Court will schedule a further hearing approximately 30 days later. The Court will order that during the 30 days, the probation office (or the Department of Health and Human Services) shall conduct a pre-disposition investigation to determine what services or programs would assist the juvenile or the family in correcting the conditions that the Court believes need to be addressed.
Q: My child was referred to the County Attorney for a criminal offense. What happens now?
A: After the investigating law enforcement agency determines that your child is responsible for a criminal offense, the case is then referred to the County Attorney's Office for consideration of prosecution. If your child's case is referred to the County Attorney's office for prosecution, and the County Attorney reviews the citation and determines there is sufficient evidence to believe that the juvenile has committed a crime, the County Attorney may file the case in juvenile court. If that occurs, a summons would be issued with the notice of hearing, and these are served upon the juvenile and parent(s) by personal service by the Sheriff's Office if the offense is a felony, or the juvenile and parent(s) will be served by certified mail if the offense is a misdemeanor. The summons directs them to appear in Juvenile Court on a certain date. The summons would also include a copy of the Petition, which is the legal document containing the allegation of the offense(s) committed.
Q: I'm a victim of a crime being prosecuted in Juvenile Court. How do I get restitution?
A: Restitution can be ordered in any case where the victim has suffered a monetary loss. If you are seeking restitution, it would be helpful to contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the crime and advise them of how much restitution is owed. You may also submit written estimates or documentation regarding the cost of repairs for your loss. After the judge has found the juvenile responsible for the offense, the judge will order the Juvenile Probation office to conduct a pre disposition investigation. During that investigation, the probation officer will gather information on restitution and may contact you. The County Attorney's Office cannot guarantee that the amount of restitution requested will be ordered by the court or paid by the juvenile. However, at the Disposition hearing, the Court may order the juvenile to pay restitution as part of the disposition. If you have not received full restitution from the juvenile, you may pursue the remedies available to you in small claims court or civil court.
Q: I'm a victim of a crime and had some of my property seized by the police during their investigation. How do I get my property back?
A: It may be necessary to hold your property as potential evidence to be offered at trial. Once the proceedings have concluded, the property may be released to you. When the case has been resolved, contact the County Attorney or the Law Enforcement Agency holding your property. Arrangements can then be made to release your property to you.
Q: My child ran away or is frequently out of control. What can I do?
A: If your child is currently on run, contact the York Police Department if you live in the city limits. Contact the York County Sheriff's office if you live outside the city limits. Those agencies will assist in locating your child. If your child is frequently on run or out of control, you may wish to contact the County Attorney's office to determine whether you wish to have an Ungovernable Petition filed in Juvenile Court.
The Juvenile Code allows the County Attorney's Office to seek filing for any juvenile who, by reason of being wayward or habitually disobedient, is uncontrolled by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian; who deports himself or herself so as to injure or endanger seriously the morals or health of himself, herself, or others; or who is habitually truant from home or school. Neb. Rev. Stat. §43-247(3)(b).
Ungovernable behavior can include, but is not limited to: leaving the family home without permission; drug and/or alcohol use; refusal to participate in therapy and/or take medication as prescribed; refusal to follow the rules of the family home; threats to harm self or others; and truancy from school.
For more information and assistance on the process to determine whether an Ungovernable Petition should be filed, please contact the County Attorney's Office. If an Ungovernable Petition is filed and the allegations are found to be true, the Juvenile Court Judge would have the authority to order the ungovernable child to follow rules, participate in treatment and therapy, or if needed, reside in an out of home placement or treatment facility.
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