How the Process Works
There are several potential steps in the delinquency process.
Intake is the first step with every complaint. A law enforcement officer collects the facts, details, and records from all parties involved in the complaint, including the complainant, witnesses, accused offenders, and parents. In some cases, the child may be taken into custody by law enforcement if the delinquent act warrants it, or if the child is a runaway.
The officer will then either submit the case for “informal adjustment” or file a petition with the juvenile court. Informal adjustment avoids court proceedings by having the child admit involvement in the delinquent act. The child and parents sign a written agreement that may require juvenile probation supervision, treatment, community service, restitution, and/or loss of driving privileges. In 2019, nearly 2,600 complaints resulted in informal adjustments.
If the officer files a petition, the complaint will be adjudicated by the juvenile court. In 2019, nearly 3,400 petitions were filed in juvenile court.
The prosecuting attorney of the county in which the petition is filed represents the state of Iowa. The child is represented by their attorney. If the family is unable to afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to represent the child. Both sides present evidence and the judge determines guilt or innocence.
If the judge finds the child not guilty, the case will be dismissed. If found guilty, the case moves to disposition wherein the judge determines what punishment, treatment, or consequences are best for the child.
A child found guilty is not “sentenced” as is the case in adult court. The judge might order probation which will require the child to obey an order to do and not do certain things under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer. If the child successfully completes the terms of probation, the case will be closed. If the child fails, a new disposition will be entered.
The judge might order placement of the child in a residential treatment center, foster care, or a state mental health or training institution. The judge could also order the child to be placed with a parent, although it might not be the parent who had custody of the child prior to the alleged act.
In the disposition of the case, the judge can order the parents to participate in education or treatment programs.
Also, under Iowa law, custodial parents and guardians of children under the age of 18 may be held responsible for certain acts committed by the child. Noncustodial parents cannot be held liable. Parents may be required to pay fines of $2,000 to $5,000 to a claimant. In actions brought under this law, the parents are named as defendants, along with their child.