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In juvenile court, a referee is like a magistrate in adult court. A referee has the authority to make dispositional decisions and performs most of the functions of the judge, with the exception of hearing jury trials. You will have an opportunity to ask that your child's case be heard before a judge instead of the referee.
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When a young person is accused of committing a crime or a status offense (something that would not be illegal if done by adults such as school truancy, running away from home, curfew violations, and incorrigibility) they must appear in juvenile court for an initial or preliminary hearing.
During that hearing, the judge will review the information presented to him and then he or she will do one or more of the following things:
The youth is free to go and there is no other formal court process to follow.
This means that the court referee 'diverts' or moves the case from the formal court system to a less formal process. This will keep the offense from being part of the youth's criminal record.
Several factors are taken into account when considering whether a case should be considered for diversion, including the nature of the offense, the youth's age, any background problems leading to the offense, the youth's character and conduct, and behavior in family and school settings.
Options for diversion can range from a warning from the court, requiring the youth to write an apology letter, requiring the youth participate in community service, having to pay restitution to the victim of the crime, or being required to attend behavioral counseling, as some examples.
If your child is formally charged with the crime and they will have to go through the formal court process.
Once your child is charged with an offense they have an opportunity to admit or deny the charges. A youth denying the charges against them is presumed innocent and may request a trial before a judge or jury.
At trial, youth have the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, the right to confront witnesses testifying against them, the right to call witnesses, and the right to testify.
If a youth is found guilty at trial or admits to a crime, the court will then prepare to enter a "disposition," which is like the sentencing stage in the adult court system.
The judge (or referee) can require a youth to do a variety of things as a part of the disposition, including requiring that the young person:
Before the disposition hearing, a probation officer will be assigned who will conduct an in-depth interview with the young person and at least one parent or guardian. This is a very important meeting because it gathers a lot of information that will be used to decide what is best for the youth. This is also a critical time for you as a parent to share information so the court can assist you in addressing the issues that your child is having.
After the initial interview is held, a report will be written by the probation officer that will make a recommendation to the judge about what should happen to the youth. You will be provided a copy of this report prior to the hearing and your input will be considered in the probation officer's recommendation. During the dispositional hearing, the judge (or referee) will determine what should happen to the youth as a result of their delinquent behavior.