Being the parent of a child who is even momentarily in trouble with the law in Indiana 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 Indiana 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. When it comes to Indiana, the nonprofit Youth Law T.E.A.M. of Indiana has a comprehensive guide entitled Your Child and Juvenile Court. The guide walks readers through the juvenile justice process, from interaction with police to the confidentiality of police and court records. The nonprofit also has a quick overview of the Juvenile Court System and another thorough guide on the Juvenile Justice System, which discuses a variety of issues, including adult court and record confidentiality. (These latter pages are chapters of a larger publication accessible here; it appears to be more recent than “Your Child and Juvenile Court.”)
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 Indiana, the National Center for Juvenile Justice has a helpful profile on the state system for handling juvenile offenders. And the Indiana Division of Youth Services has a variety of information on treatment programs, detention facilities, and resources (including resources for parents and guardians). Plus, there are the resources on the T.E.A.M. site listed above.
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 or expunged, keeping them inaccessible to others 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 and expungement, see our center on Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record. And, to learn about the process in Indiana, see Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record in Indiana. (Also note the resources listed above, under “The Juvenile Justice Process.”)
Getting Expert Help
Although this article provides several resources for those encountering the juvenile justice system in Indiana, 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.)