How are juvenile courts similar and different from courts that process adults accused of violating the law?

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Juvenile courts are similar in that the defendant has legal rights, the right to counsel, and due process must be followed just as with accused adults.  A formal charge might be made, but it is not required in order for a hearing to be held or sentencing to take place.  However, the differences between these two justice systems are more pronounced and significant.

In a juvenile court, for example, there is no jury trial.  Attorneys make arguments, a judge presides and may require testimony from witnesses, but it is a hearing more than a "trial" per se.  A judge makes the ruling without jury input, then, and this is considered allowable because there are strict limits placed on sentencing.  No matter how heinous the crime, unless a judge declares that a juvenile be tried as an adult, the longest they can be sentenced is until their 21st birthday.  Even someone who committed murder could not be imprisoned longer in the juvenile system.  Because of this crucial limitation, the system was created without a jury provision, and is much more efficient at rendering verdicts than the adult system.

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