BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There are both differences and similarities between how juveniles are tried in Louisiana compared to adults.
Young people who are charged with a crime have the same constitutional rights as adults, such as the right to counsel, appeals, and due process. Also, the state must prove the juvenile committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The only exception is an accused juvenile does not have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers.
The main difference between juvenile and adult court proceedings is all juvenile court proceedings are conducted in secret. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said the proceedings are held in secret to protect the juvenile. The DA added juvenile court also acts as a parent for the juvenile.
According to Louisiana law, the only people allowed inside the courtroom are, "the child, his (or her) parents, counsel, the district attorney, authorized officers of the court, and witnesses called by the parties present at an adjunct hearing."
Records from juvenile court proceedings are sealed forever. Jack Harrison, a public defender and adjunct professor of clinical law with the LSU Law Center's Juvenile Defense Clinic, explained sealed proceedings can only be unsealed under very specific circumstances.
For example, if an adult accused of a crime is about to be sentenced, a district attorney could present the accused adult's juvenile record to the judge at the sentencing hearing. However, Harrison says otherwise, members of the public, an employer, or private investigator generally may not access anyone's juvenile court records.
Moore explained all juvenile cases are confidential unless there is a probable cause finding to a crime of violence. The district attorney also said officers of the court are prohibited from making comment on confidential matters, which include juvenile cases.
Another difference between juvenile court and adult criminal court, according to Harrison, is that the court seeks to rehabilitate juveniles who commit delinquent acts. Harrison explained the way Louisiana law is written, "Juvenile court seeks to rehabilitate. Punishment is not the goal of the court. It's always about rehabilitation."
There are two types of cases heard in juvenile court: delinquency cases and Families in Need of Services cases, or FINS. A delinquent act is something that would be considered a crime for an adult. For acts that are not considered crimes for adults, such as runaway behavior, are tried as FINS cases. Other acts tried in FINS cases include truancy, ungovernable behavior, drug and alcohol violations, and cyberbullying.
For all delinquency cases, whether crimes of violence or any other crime, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over children from ages 10 through 16. In July, the age limit rises to include all 17-year-olds for offenses which are not crimes of violence. If a juvenile age 9 or younger is accused of a delinquent act, that matter is treated as a FINS case.
If a juvenile 14 or older is accused of committing a crime of violence, such as murder, rape, or armed robbery (for a full list of applicable crimes click here), the juvenile is tried in a delinquency case and the juvenile court proceedings are open to the public.
In some cases, a juvenile who is accused of a crime of violence can be tried as an adult. In those cases, the juvenile is transferred to the adult criminal court system. However, there are certain criteria for the juvenile to be tried as an adult. If the juvenile is 14, a juvenile court judge must decide if the juvenile will be tried as an adult. For a juvenile, 15 or 16 to be tried as an adult, they either have to be indicted by a grand jury or if a juvenile court finds probable cause for a transferable offense, the DA's office may then file a bill of information in the criminal adult court.
When a juvenile is arrested the court is required by the law to have a hearing within three days of their arrest for every juvenile detained in a local detention facility unless they were initially released to the care of their parents. The law also states that if the hearing is not held, "the child shall be released unless the hearing is continued at the request of the child."
Harrison said there are only four full-time juvenile courts in Louisiana. Those courts are in Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish, New Orleans, and Shreveport. In most jurisdictions throughout the state, juvenile cases are heard by one judge. In some rural jurisdictions, juvenile cases may only be heard once a month.