Delaware Juvenile Law

Look here for resources on criminal justice for juveniles in The First State.

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Being the parent of a child who is even momentarily in trouble with the law in Delaware or anywhere else isn’t easy. Nervous questions abound, among them:

  • How does the legal process unfold?
  • What’s the punishment?
  • Is my child going to have a permanent criminal record?

The goal of this article is to provide parents, their minor children, and anyone else with an interest in Delaware juvenile justice with resources that address these questions. Those who would like a broader understanding of juvenile law should check out Nolo’s center on The Juvenile Justice System. In addition, see our center on Juvenile Crimes, which has articles explaining common offenses minors are charged with, from curfew violations to underage DUI. This center also has state-specific information on crimes like being a minor in possession of alcohol and teen sexting.

The Juvenile Justice Process

Each state has specially designated courts that deal with juveniles accused of crime. Even though the minor is charged with breaking the law, the proceedings are typically far different from what happens in adult court. The Delaware State Courts website has a section on Criminal Cases in the Family Court that explains the way in which juvenile cases proceed in The First State. (The section discusses juvenile and adult cases in family court, and has a part that discusses juveniles only.)

Punishment for Juveniles

Juvenile courts typically have a variety of punishment options to choose from. These range from verbal warnings to placement in juvenile detention facilities. For a general overview, see Juvenile Court Sentencing Options. In terms of Delaware, the National Center for Juvenile Justice has a helpful profile on the state system for handling juvenile offenders. And the state Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services has information on Community Services/Probation & Aftercare, and on Dispositional Guidelines for Juveniles (including the levels of programs for “juveniles in need of treatment.”)

Juvenile Court Records

A big concern for parents is that juvenile court records will follow their children for life, heading off all kinds of employment, education, and other opportunities. Fortunately for many youthful offenders, there are procedures by which juveniles can have their records sealed for most purposes. Some states have limited automatic sealing, but in most instances, a former juvenile offender has to file a petition in court. For a range of general information on record sealing, see our center on Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record. And, to learn about the record-sealing process in Delaware, see Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record in Delaware. Also, the Delaware State Courts site has a step-by-step guide on Expungement of a Juvenile Record, which includes forms.

Getting Expert Help

Although this article provides several resources for those encountering the juvenile justice system in Delaware, resources can become outdated, and a comprehensive guide that explains all the issues in a given case isn’t possible. Even though there may be additional helpful government websites—whether on the state, county, or city level—a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can provide a fuller explanation of the law and your options. In addition, a lawyer may have invaluable experience with the local system and its players.

You can start a search for a local criminal defense attorney with Nolo’s Lawyer Directory. Make sure that any lawyer you choose has expertise in criminal defense in juvenile proceedings, and that you have enough information to trust him or her. (For more guidance, see Finding a Private Criminal Defense Attorney.)

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