Justice system is separate and distinct from the adult criminal justice
system. It is essentially a civil process with a treatment component
designed for quick, targeted intervention as the best approach to
changing behavior of young offenders. In Michigan, as in all states, the
primary goal of the Juvenile Justice System is rehabilitation,
usually achieved through probation oversight, intensive counseling,
education and guidance. Punishment is not a factor, unlike adult
criminal prosecution. This focus encompasses not only a desire to
decrease recidivism, but to encourage our youth to make better choices,
to avoid criminal or delinquent behavior, and to become productive
members of society. Paramount in our handling of delinquency cases are
considerations for public safety, upholding community values and
standards, and protecting the interests of victims.
Terms of Art
Delinquency cases used different labels than adult criminal cases. The person charged is called a Respondent, not a defendant. Charges are Offenses, not crimes. A respondent is Adjudicated, not convicted. After an adjudication, a judge imposes orders against a respondent at a Disposition hearing, not a sentencing.
As with adult cases, a prosecutor
authorizes a delinquency petition only after a thorough police
investigation. If a petition is authorized, the first hearing is a Preliminary Inquiry,
similar to an adult court arraignment, where the minor is told what
offenses have been issued; a court-appointed attorney may be requested; a
decision on diverting the case through the Consent Calendar process is
discussed; or a guilty plea can be entered. If a plea is not entered,
the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. If the case is
not resolved at this hearing, a jury or judge trial will be scheduled.
If the minor is adjudicated (convicted) through a plea or trial verdict,
a disposition (sentencing) hearing will be held after the probation
department has investigated the youth's needs. The disposition hearing
typically results in the youth being placed on probation, and lives at
home. If the youth is removed from the parent's care, review hearings
will be held in court to monitor the youth's progress and whether
continued out-of-home placement is needed.
Informal Docket / Consent Calendar
The prosecutor may agree to divert a formal delinquency prosecution through Consent Calendar
probation. This is common for first-time misdemeanor offense cases, but
is an option for almost any offense. A probation order tailored to the
youth's needs is agreed to by the youth and parents, prosecutor and
court. If the youth successfully completes this informal probation, the
case is dismissed. If Consent Calendar is revoked -- usually due to
probation violations or new offenses being issued -- the case moved to
the Formal Calendar where a trial is scheduled on the original charges,
or a guilty plea is entered, followed by a Disposition hearing.
Disposition Hearing Options
have wide latitude to impose terms that are focused on the youth's
individual rehabilitation needs. The label or level of the adjudicated
offense does not affect the judge's options. Typically, the youth is
allowed to live at home while completing a probation period overseen by a
probation officer, and must complete programs like counseling,
drug/alcohol testing, community services, etc. In most cases, probation
is completed in 6-9 months, but by law the court can keep a delinquent
youth under court order until their 19th birthday, regardless of how old
they were when the case began.
If placement in the community
(even with restrictions like tether) will not protect society from
continued violations of law or protect the youth from harmful acts, the
court may order more restrictive placement. Eaton County is fortunate to
have an array of local programs hosted at our Youth Facility in
Charlotte, including Day Treatment, Community Based Treatment, and
Residential Treatment, the latter being the most-restrictive option.
Each program involves on-site schooling and counseling, and is completed
only when the youth has earned a specified unit of program days.
Probation oversight continues while the youth transitions back into the
Prosecuting Attorney's Office determines not just whether to issue
against the youth, and what offenses or charges, but also in rare and
serious cases whether the youth should be prosecuted as an adult due to
- Delinquency prosecution:
Prosecutors issue delinquency petitions against persons under 17 years
of age who have committed an illegal act which, if committed by an
adult, would be considered a criminal offense, such as a felony,
misdemeanor, or ordinance offense.
- Status offenses:
Prosecutors issue petitions in Family Court against minors who have
committed offenses which are only illegal due to the offender's age.
Examples of status offenses include truancy, running away from home, and
- Designation Proceedings:
Prosecutors may issue petitions in Family Court that "designate" a
specified felony offense, which results in an adult conviction, not a
delinquency adjudication. The judge has a range of options to either
impose a juvenile-type disposition plan focused on rehabilitation and
not punishment; or to impose a 'blended sentence' that delays the case
with probation-like terms to give the youth a chance to prove his
ability to be rehabilitated; or to impose a purely adult sentence, which
may include county jail or state prison incarceration. Specified
felonies include First or Second Degree Murder, Attempted Murder,
Assault With Intent to Commit Murder, Assault with Intent to Maim,
Assault With Intent to Rob While Armed, Criminal Sexual Conduct First
Degree, Carjacking, Armed Robbery, Kidnapping, or Arson First Degree.
- Automatic Waiver (Prosecution as Adult):
Prosecutors may file criminal charges directly in adult court against
youths aged 14 to 16 who committed a "specified felony." All proceedings
are held in the District and Circuit Court Criminal Division, not the
Family Court, and the process unfolds the same as an adult crime.
Convictions are "adult convictions". Sentences on "specified felonies"
must be imposed as if the youth was an adult defendant; but sentences
for other felony crimes can be imposed like a juvenile disposition plan
with periodic reviews to determine if the youth's failure to be
rehabilitated makes the case appropriate to be imposed like an adult
sentence, including county jail or state prison incarceration.