Persons under the age of 18 years who violate any federal, state, or local law or municipal ordinance, with the exception of certain traffic, alcohol, tobacco, and watercraft violations, are processed under the Juvenile Corrections Act. Juvenile cases are customarily handled in the magistrate division of the district court.
Court supervision of a juvenile is geared toward the rehabilitation, protection, and guidance of the juvenile and his/her family. Court activities are directed to the discovery and correction of the causes of the illegal conduct with aid of resources from the community and the Department of Juvenile Corrections. As a result, court programs are administered on an individual basis and the court is more concerned with the juvenile than the specific offense.
As a rule, neither the juvenile court, nor any of its officers, are allowed to initiate action to bring a juvenile before the court. Usually such action begins with law enforcement. When an officer believes that a juvenile has broken the law, he/she files a report concerning the alleged offense.
If further action is desireable, the report is submitted to the prosecuting attorney requesting that a petition be filed with the juvenile court. The prosecuting attorney reviews the case and determines whether there is sufficient evidence to bring the matter before the juvenile court. If the prosecutor feels there is sufficient evidence, a petition is filed with the court.
The petition is the formal document that sets forth the specific act with which the juvenile is charged. Unless such a petition is filed, the juvenile may not be brought before the court, except to be released from detention.
Once a petition has been filed, a probation officer conducts an interview with the juvenile and with one or both of the parents or legal guardian. This interview advises the juvenile and his/her parents of the content of the petition and advises all parties of their constitutional rights. It is also used to obtain as much information as possible to aid the court in making the most fair and helpful decision in the event that the juvenile is found within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act. The probation officer tries to answer questions that the juvenile or parent has about the court process and sets the time and date for the initial court hearing.
If the probation officer concludes that formal court action would not serve the best interests of the juvenile or the public, he/she may recommend to the court that the case be dismissed or that the juvenile be diverted into a community program. The judge may either accept or reject the recommendation.
At the start of the court hearing, the judge reviews the petition to determine if the juvenile and his/her parents understand the charge. If copies of the petition have not been served, they are delivered to the juvenile and his/her parents at the hearing.
Before the facts of the petition are discussed, the judge reviews the constitutional and legal rights of all parties. The court then determines whether or not the facts as contained in the petition are true. If the juvenile denies the charge, the case is set for hearing.
If the court finds the juvenile within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act, after the hearing or by the juvenile's own admission, the court proceeds to disposition.
The court has a number of alternatives in making disposition. Briefly, they are:
In felony or more serious misdemeanor cases, the court may transfer the case to the district court to be processed under adult criminal law. Under Idaho Code, the juvenile must be at least 14 years of age to be tried as an adult.