What happens to minors who break juvenile protection laws?

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Question:

My daughter was arrested for underage drinking and a curfew violation, but her rights were never read to her. She was handcuffed, fingerprinted and given a breath test, which she failed. Does she have any legal rights as a juvenile when she faces the judge?

Answer:

It sounds like your daughter committed a "status offense."  All states have laws that seek to promote children's welfare.  For example, state laws require children to attend school and refrain from the use of alcohol. Similarly, some local communities have enacted curfew laws that prohibit minors from remaining in public places after a designated time (for example, 10 p.m.). Laws such as these are sometimes called "status offenses" because they target behavior that is illegal for children but not for adults.

Police officers can take minors who commit status offenses into custody. At least for first time offenders, police officers often return minors to the custody of their parents or guardians. But if a minor is a repeat offender, or has violated a court order, or needs medical attention, or if no suitable adult caretaker is available, a police officer can place a minor in a juvenile detention or medical facility. It's a permissible formality to fingerprint a juvenile who is placed in a juvenile facility.

Whether a police officer has to issue Miranda warnings before interrogating a minor who has committed a status offense depends on whether the government seeks to punish a juvenile for committing a criminal violation. If the police or a judge only issue a warning, or issue an order telling the juvenile not to repeat the behavior but impose no further punishment, then Miranda warnings would not be necessary. But if no Miranda warnings were issued and a juvenile is charged with a crime, then any damaging statements your daughter gave to the police -- and any evidence the police uncovered as a result of those statements -- may not be considered by the juvenile court judge who decides her case. To read more articles about status offenses and other juvenile criminal issues, see Nolo's Juvenile Justice System area. If you need a criminal defense lawyer for your daughter, check out Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory to find a lawyer near you.

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