Typically a juvenile is referred to juvenile court by a complaint from a law enforcement officer for conduct that could be a crime if committed by an adult. For less serious offenses, the juvenile and parents or guardians are referred to juvenile court services (JCS). The juvenile is assigned a juvenile court officer (JCO), a court employee who works with young people through the intake and informal adjustment processes. For more serious offenses, the matter may proceed to directly to juvenile court.
If you cannot afford an attorney for your child, you should fill out an application for a court appointed attorney available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms, under Juvenile. Use form 3 or form 4 depending on the type of case. If the parents qualify, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the child. The parents may or may not be required to pay some of the attorney’s fees.
An “intake interview” is when a juvenile court officer (JCO) interviews the juvenile to gather information about the juvenile’s alleged offense to determine whether the court should take action in the case. From intake, the case may proceed to informal adjustment or to the filing of a delinquency petition with the juvenile court by the county attorney. If a child has been apprehended or detained by law enforcement, the matter may go straight to the filing of a petition with the court without intake.
“Informal adjustment” means the child has admitted committing the offense and agreed to the terms of behavior set out in a written informal adjustment agreement with the juvenile court officer (JCO). If the child meets the conditions of the informal adjustment, the child is released from the oversight of juvenile court services. About 2/3 of juvenile cases are concluded by JCOs through informal adjustments without going to juvenile court.
For more serious offenses, the county attorney will file a “delinquency petition” with the juvenile court for formal proceedings. The petition describes the nature of the delinquent offense allegedly committed by the juvenile.
An “adjudicatory hearing” is a court hearing to determine if the alleged offenses in the petition are supported by evidence. If the judge finds that the child did not commit the alleged offenses, the judge may dismiss the petition and the child is no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. If the judge determines the child did commit the offenses, the juvenile is found delinquent and a disposition hearing is scheduled.
A “disposition hearing” is a hearing where the court determines the appropriate course of action for the juvenile who has been found delinquent. The court may enter an order placing the juvenile on probation, in foster care, residential treatment, or a state institution. A juvenile court officer (JCO) will monitor the juvenile’s progress until the terms of the order are satisfied.
In certain circumstances, depending on the seriousness of the alleged offence, a child may be “waived” to adult court and tried as an adult. Once waived to adult court, the child is no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and is subject to the same criminal procedures and penalties as adults. Waiver of a juvenile to adult court is a serious matter and can be very complicated. You should talk to an attorney.