Illinois Juvenile Law

Look here for resources on criminal justice for juveniles in the Prairie State.

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Being the parent of a child who is even momentarily in trouble with the law in Illinois 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 Illinois 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 face, 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 Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) provides a thorough guide to the Prarie State's juvenile justice system, discussing issues ranging from arrest to expungement. (See Policies and Procedures of the Illinois Juvenile Justice System.)

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 Illinois, the National Center for Juvenile Justice has a helpful profile on the state system for handling juvenile offenders. The ICJIA guide mentioned above also covers punishment issues in detail. And the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice has a host of information, including material on the treatment of juvenile offenders.

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 Illinois, see Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record in Illinois. In addition, Illinois has several places to find information on juvenile records and expungement—for example, the ICJIA guide (noted above), this ICJIA publication on juvenile criminal records, a guide by the Office of the State Appellate Defender, and an expungement section by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Getting Expert Help

Although this article provides several resources for those encountering the juvenile justice system in Illinois, 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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