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Mark Olberding Aug. 7, 2009

In many ways, the juvenile delinquency process mirrors that of the adult Iowa Criminal Procedure. A crime is reported. A Law Enforcement officer will conduct the investigation.

If the Law Enforcement officer determines that a crime has been committed and the suspect is a juvenile, Juvenile Court Services will be contacted. A juvenile court officer will examine the report, and often will interview the child. If the charge is very minor and the child has not been in trouble before, the juvenile court officer may choose not to pursue the case and place the child on informal probation.

However, many times the juvenile court office must alert the county attorney and begin juvenile proceedings. The county attorney reviews the report and if they decide to bring the case to court, they will file a delinquency petition. The petition will be served upon the child’s parents, usually by the sheriff. The documents will also contain an order directing the parents to attend a pretrial conference and an order appointing an attorney for the child. The parents are not entitled to a court appointed attorney.

Pretrial conference

At the pretrial conference, the parties will meet and decide whether they need to proceed to an adjudicatory hearing. An adjudicatory hearing is a trial in juvenile court, where the county attorney must prove to the judge that the child has committed the delinquent act as alleged in the petition. If the parents, child and the State feel that an agreement can be reached wherein no adjudicatory hearing is necessary, the child can plead guilty (called entering a factual basis) at the pretrial conference. If the State’s evidence is strong, and they are willing to consider a reasonable disposition, then skipping the adjudicatory hearing can be a good decision and the child goes straight to a dispositional hearing either right then or at a latter date. If no agreement is reached, an adjudicatory hearing is scheduled.

Adjudicatory hearing

At that hearing the county attorney will present all of the State’s evidence to include testimony from witnesses and physical evidence. Usually the witnesses will be the Law Enforcement officers involved in the investigation and any people who may have witnessed the delinquent act. The child’s attorney can cross-examine all of the State’s witnesses. The child’s attorney will then have the chance to present the child’s evidence. This can be witnesses for the child and physical evidence. The child can, but is not required to, take the stand in their own defense.

There is no right to a jury in a juvenile delinquency case. The case is always tried to a judge.

Dispositional hearing

If the Court believes that the delinquent act has been committed, or if the child admitted to it at the pretrial conference, then the case proceeds to a dispositional hearing. The dispositional hearing is much like a sentencing hearing in adult court. Dispositions can range from returning the child to the parents under some form of probation to placement in the State Training School for very serious or repeat offenders, placement in a residential or treatment facility, probation or a consent decree.

Consent decree

A consent decree is similar to a deferred judgment in adult court. With a consent decree the child is given a period of probation, usually six or twelve months, and if the child completes probation successfully, then the delinquent act will not appear on the child’s juvenile record.

Review Hearings

In all juvenile delinquency cases are reviewed by the Court. Depending on what the disposition was, these hearings are held as often as every thirty (30) days or as infrequently as once a year. All parties must be present. Any party involved in the case may ask for a review hearing at any time if the situation has changed enough to warrant a change in the disposition order. The changes in the disposition order range from releasing the child for court jurisdiction and closing the case to extending the length of probation to revocation of the probation and removal of the child to a residential or treatment facility.