Juvenile Justice Terms and Definitions
The juvenile justice system can be confusing for anyone. Some terminology is different in the juvenile justice system than it is in the adult courts. This guide will give you definitions of terms that you may hear if you are involved with the juvenile justice system.
Juvenile Court Term
Take into custody
Held in detention
Glossary of Terms
Adjudicate - To settle or decide a case in court with the judge. Adjudication or Adjudicatory Hearing - This is similar to a trial in the adult system. The juvenile court judge hears witnesses, receives evidence, and decides whether the child committed the offense for which he or she is charged. (The juvenile and family courts do not have juries.) If the judge finds that your child committed a delinquent act, the judge also decides whether he or she needs treatment, rehabilitation, or supervision.
Admission - When the child tells the court that he or she committed the offense charged. This is called a guilty plea in the adult system.
Allegations - A charge or claim made against someone for an act that they supposedly committed.
Alternatives to Detention - Services in the community that a child receives instead of placement in a secure detention facility.
Certification - The juvenile court may transfer to adult court the case of a child between 12 and 17 who is charged with committing an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult. The juvenile court may also transfer to adult court the case of a child of any age who is charged with committing an extremely serious felony or a child who has committed two or more prior unrelated offenses that would have been felonies if committed by an adult.
Commitment - A judge’s order that a child be placed in confinement or a residential program.
Delinquent Offense – An act committed by a child that would be a crime if committed by an adult, e.g., assault, burglary, possession of illegal drugs.
Detention - Temporary confinement of a child who allegedly committed a delinquent act; the confinement continues until pre-hearing release, juvenile court proceedings, or disposition.
Detention Hearing - The hearing to determine whether there is good reason to detain the child until the adjudicatory hearing.
Disposition - The decision that the juvenile court reaches concerning a child’s delinquency case:
Diversion - Placing the child into a public or private treatment program as an alternative to formal prosecution.
Formal Probation - Where a child is found to have committed an offense, placing the child under court-ordered supervision.
Formal Processing - Cases that appear on the official court calendar.
Adult Court Terms
Hearing - A court proceeding to decide on a course of action, or to determine a child’s involvement or non-involvement in an offense. The order of the hearings in juvenile proceedings are: (1) detention hearing, (2) adjudicatory hearing, and (3) dispositional hearing.
Informal Adjustment - A voluntary conference at which the juvenile is warned not to have any further violations. Informal adjustments are used for minor offenses instead of taking the child to court. The informal adjustment may result in diversion, as defined above.
Informal Probation - Placing the child on probation under the juvenile office’s supervision. Successful completion of the informal probation period may result in a complete dismissal of the charges without any finding that the child was delinquent.
Jurisdiction - The extent or range of authority of the court or law enforcement.
Juvenile Court - A court with authority over cases involving children under the age of seventeen. As discussed in this brochure’s introduction, some of Missouri’s larger metropolitan areas have a family court rather than a juvenile court, and the family court hears and decides delinquency cases.
Petition - A legal paper, filed by a state authority, that says what your child is accused of having done. In adult court, these are called the charges or an indictment.
Pre-Disposition - The period after the filing of a petition alleging the juvenile committed a delinquency offense but before the hearing.
Pre-Disposition Investigation - The investigation into the child’s background and character after the court decides that the child has committed a delinquent offense. The investigation collects information that will help the court determine the most appropriate disposition.
Referral - A complaint or report that law enforcement, a school, or a citizen files with the juvenile court alleging a violation of the law.
Recidivism - The act of committing another delinquent act.
Remand - To send an accused person back into custody to await further proceedings.
Restitution - Court-ordered payments made to the victim by the child or child’s parents for losses. The child’s amount must be reasonable according to the child’s ability to pay.
Status Offense - Behavior that is considered an offense only if committed by a child under seventeen. Status offenses are handled only by the juvenile court. Missouri law recognizes only five status offenses: (1) truancy, (2) beyond parental control, (3) running away from home, (4) maintaining behavior or associations that are harmful to a child, and (5) offenses that are not classified as criminal or that apply only to children, e.g., underage drinking, curfew.
Subpoena - An order for a person or organization to testify before the court.
Summons - A written document announcing to a person that a legal proceeding has been brought against the person. A summons ordinarily accompanies the petition.
Valid Court Order (VCO) - An order concerning the child, issued by a juvenile court judge. For example, a juvenile court hearing might result in a young person receiving a valid court order to receive counseling.