Criminal offenses committed by juveniles, which are defined as individuals under 18 years of age, are heard in juvenile court. Juvenile court is typically located in the county courthouse but the procedure is much different than regular adult court.
In adult court, the primary focus is punishment of the individual for the crimes committed. Such punishment includes fines, probation, and/or jail time. In juvenile court, the focus is not on punishment but rather rehabilitation of the juvenile. If an individual is found to be delinquent, which is the equivalent of guilty in adult court, the focus will be on how to keep the juvenile from reoffending by offering treatment, counseling, and probation. For more serious offenses, or for multiple offenders, placement is possible in a juvenile facility.
While the standard is the same as an adult court, meaning proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that is where the similarity ends. Unlike adult court, a juvenile does not plead guilty but instead is “adjudicated delinquent”. There are also many different programs available designed to help the juvenile such as mental health treatment, drug treatment, first time offender programs, etc. Once a juvenile turns 18, he is now an adult in the eyes of the law and any crimes committed after 18 would be held in adult criminal court.
If a juvenile was found delinquent, it would appear on his criminal history, aka rap sheet which could affect schooling, future emoloyment and other aspects of life. Expungement of the criminal record as possible after the juvenile turns 21 and is no longer on juvenile probation.
If you were charged with a juvenile crime it is best to retain an experience local criminal defense attorney to assist, as local attorneys are more familiar with local programs and tend to have a better relationship with the prosecution and with the probation department. If you cannot afford a private attorney, most counties will appoint a public defender for free to represent the juvenile.