A “juvenile” is considered a minor or any person under the age of 18. When a juvenile violates the law, the punishment and consequences differ from those of an adult who violated the same law. Depending on the type of offense convicted – felony, misdemeanor, or infraction – the punishment can vary from a sentence to prison or county jail to informal probation. The attorneys at Twyford Law Office in Spokane have handled a range of cases and can provide more information on the juvenile criminal defense process

Juvenile Court vs Adult Court

When a juvenile commits a crime, depending on the severity of the offense, the case can be brought to adult court. There are several important differences between adult and juvenile court. One distinguishing factor is that adult courts use trial by jury while juvenile courts use trial by judge. In many cases, juvenile criminal charges are kept confidential for the privacy of the minor and to focus on rehabilitation in the juvenile court system. Another difference between adult and juvenile court is the severity of penalties if the defendant is found guilty. In adult courts, there are greater possibilities of more serious penalties including prison sentencing, while in juvenile courts will not sentence adult prison. If a juvenile is found guilty, they may face a “disposition” where the juvenile court judge will determine what should happen to the minor. Generally, juvenile courts focus on the rehabilitation of the minor rather than punishment. 

Process of Formal Juvenile Charge

  1. Arraignment: the juvenile delinquent will be formally charged of the crime before a judge.
  2. Court hearing: the case will be brought to a court hearing where the juvenile court will take jurisdiction over the case or the judge will decide whether the case should be transferred to adult court in a “fitness hearing” or also known as a transfer hearing.
  3. Entering a plea: the juvenile defendant will enter a plea, respond to the criminal charges against them, and will proceed to trial depending on the plea. 
  4. Trial: based on the plea, the defendant may proceed to trial in juvenile court, where the hearing will include a judge who will decide whether the juvenile is guilty or innocent, and not involving a jury in the same way as adult court.
  5. Sentencing: if the juvenile is found guilty of the charges convicted, the judge will sentence the minor with either incarceration or a non-incarceration punishment. 

Incarceration for Juvenile Delinquents

Juveniles convicted of a criminal offense are subject to incarceration. However, the options look different for a minor than an adult. 

This includes:

  • House arrest
  • Juvenile detention facility (shorter term stays)
  • Secured juvenile facility (longer term stays)
  • Placement with an adult other than a parent or legal guardian

For severe felony charges, the juvenile may be brought to adult court and face more serious penalties including a sentence to state prison. 

Non-Incarceration for Juvenile Delinquents

In some less severe cases of juvenile criminal offenses, juvenile court judges may decide to sentence the minor with an order other than confinement. 

This could include:

  • Fine
  • Verbal warning
  • Community service
  • Counseling 
  • Probation 

Probation is the most common disposition in juvenile cases in which the minor is supervised and freedom is limited. In a disposition, juvenile court judges may order any of the options listed above or a combination. 


Contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer at Twyford Law Office in Spokane can provide you with expert legal advice and help you understand your options as the parent or guardian of a minor who has been charged with a crime.