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The Juvenile Court Process

The Juvenile Justice System is quite different from the Adult Criminal Justice System. The Juvenile Justice System's primary objective is to rehabilitate the juvenile while the Adult Criminal Justice System's objectives are to deter crime and punish the offender.

The following is a brief description of the process that must be followed to prosecute a juvenile accused of committing a delinquent act. If a juvenile is transferred from the juvenile justice system to stand trial as an adult, the case will proceed differently. This section is also described visually in the flowchart on this page.

The Offense (Crime)

When you are the victim or witness of a crime, you should immediately call 9-1-1 or the law enforcement agency (Police or Sheriff) which has the responsibility for the area where the crime occurred. The best thing you can do is call the law enforcement agency immediately; the longer you wait, the harder it will be to catch the criminal.

Initial Investigation

In most cases an initial investigation of a crime is conducted by a patrol officer who travels to the crime scene or the location of the victim, shortly after the crime is reported. Naturally, the officer will assist those who need medical attention. The patrol officer will interview the victim(s) and any witness(es) and will begin an initial report listing the circumstances of the crime. In addition, any officer may take photographs and dust for fingerprints during an inspection of the scene.

Identification technicians may also respond to the scene if there is a need to take special photographs of the crime scene or the victim, to record possible fingerprints, to collect physical evidence or to draw a composite of any suspects.

The patrol officer then completes an incident report which is channeled to detectives who investigate that particular type of crime.

Follow-up Investigation

The patrol officer's report is then reviewed by a sergeant or another ranking officer in the Detective Division. He/she may assign the case to a detective for follow-up investigation. Detectives may contact witnesses for a formal statement, may obtain further physical evidence, and may request further descriptions of suspects or stolen property. During the course of an investigation, photographic line-ups may be shown to victims and witnesses. These photographic lineups may or may not contain the photograph of the juvenile offender.

Formal Charging Procedure

When the investigating officer believes that a suspect has been identified and that there is sufficient evidence, a Delinquency Complaint/Referral, alleging the commission of a delinquent act, is submitted to the Juvenile Prosecutor.

If the offense is a misdemeanor, and the youth has never been in trouble with law before, the Juvenile Prosecutor will send the case to diversion.

If it's not the first time the youth has been in trouble, or if the alleged act constitutes a felony, then the Juvenile Prosecutor will review the case. The prosecutor may request that the detective furnish additional investigative work to complete the case. If the prosecutor believes the report provides sufficient evidence to indicate the alleged juvenile offender has committed a delinquent act and if, in the prosecutor's judgment there is reasonable likelihood that the juvenile will be found delinquent at an adjudication hearing, the prosecutor will file a Criminal Information alleging delinquent behavior with the Juvenile Court. Sometimes, the prosecutor determines there is insufficient "legal evidence" which will result in a finding of delinquency and a Criminal Information will not be filed.

First Appearance

If a juvenile respondent is arrested and taken into custody, he/she is taken to Detention at the Juvenile & Family Services complex. The court will then decide whether or not the juvenile will be held in custody to await arraignment. Many juvenile respondents are released at this hearing to their parents, guardian or person having custody or control of the juvenile, with a personal promise that the juvenile will return to court when required for an Adjudication Hearing.

If the juvenile respondent is not in custody, the juvenile, the juvenile's parents, guardian or custodian, will be notified to appear before the court for a First Appearance Hearing.

At the First Appearance Hearing, the juvenile respondent is informed of the exact nature of the charges against him/her. The juvenile is also advised that he/she can have an attorney and if he/she cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided at public expense.


The juvenile respondent is asked to enter a plea to the charges against him/her. Normally, a plea of "not guilty" is entered and an Adjudication Hearing date is set. Respondents are entitled to speedy trial. An Adjudication Hearing must be set within 30 days after the date of the Arraignment Hearing if the juvenile respondent is in detention, or 60 days if the juvenile respondent is not in detention.

If the juvenile respondent enters a plea of "guilty" at the Arraignment Hearing, a Disposition Hearing date is set or the Disposition Hearing can take place immediately after the juvenile's change of plea. If you are a victim, please be aware that a guilty plea and even disposition can occur at the Arraignment Hearing. Therefore, if you want to exercise your rights as a victim, you should attend the Arraignment Hearing in case all these things should occur at the same time.

Contact between the juvenile respondent and victims or witnesses is restricted. It is against the law for anyone to harass or intimidate a witness. Any harassment should be reported to the police or the prosecutor as soon as possible. Remember that if the harassment is not reported, it probably will not stop.

After the Arraignment Hearing, but before Adjudication

After the Arraignment Hearing, there are many activities performed in preparation for the Adjudication Hearing. By Washington State Rules of Juvenile Court, both the prosecutor and the defense must disclose information to the other party. This process, called discovery, includes providing the juvenile's defense attorney with a copy of the police report and any other written information and includes interviews with prospective witnesses.

In addition to discovery, there may be court hearings that are scheduled before the adjudication. At these hearings, motions may be heard from either the prosecutor or the defense regarding the admissibility of evidence, pre-adjudication release of the juvenile respondent or other matters of concern to the attorneys or the court.

Transfer to Adult Court

Washington law requires automatic filing in adult court if the juvenile is sixteen or seventeen years old and the alleged offense is:

(1) A serious violent offense as defined in RCW 9.94A.030;

(2) A violent offense as defined in RCW 9.94A.030 and the juvenile has a criminal history consisting of: (I) One or more prior serious violent offenses; (II) two or more prior violent offenses; or (III) three or more of any combination of the following offenses: Any class A felony, any class B felony, vehicular assault, or manslaughter in the second degree, all of which must have been committed after the juvenile's thirteenth birthday and prosecuted separately;

(3) Robbery in the first degree, rape of a child in the first degree, or drive-by shooting, committed on or after July 1, 1997;

(4) Burglary in the first degree committed on or after July 1, 1997, and the juvenile has a criminal history consisting of one or more prior felony or misdemeanor offenses; or

(5) Any violent offense as defined in RCW 9.94A.030 committed on or after July 1, 1997, and the juvenile is alleged to have been armed with a firearm.

Unless waived by the court, the parties, and their counsel, a decline hearing shall be held when:

(a) The respondent is fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years of age and the information alleges a class A felony or an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit a class A felony;

(b) The respondent is seventeen years of age and the information alleges assault in the second degree, extortion in the first degree, indecent liberties, child molestation in the second degree, kidnapping in the second degree, or robbery in the second degree; or

(c) The information alleges an escape by the respondent and the respondent is serving a minimum juvenile sentence to age twenty-one.

If the law does not allow filing directly into adult court and it is the opinion of the Prosecutor that the juvenile defendant should be transferred to adult court for criminal prosecution, this office will file a motion with the Court to decline jurisdiction over the juvenile which would send the case to adult court.

A Decline Hearing must be held within 14 days after the date of the First Appearance Hearing, unless the parties agree to a later date.

If the court denies or dismisses the Motion for declination, an Arraignment Hearing will take place and an Adjudication Hearing is then set.

Competency of the Juvenile respondent

If a defense attorney thinks a juvenile may not be competent to be adjudicated because the juvenile cannot assist in his/her defense, the defense attorney may request that the court order a psychiatric evaluation of the juvenile. If the court orders the evaluation, the process typically takes at least one month. A hearing is then scheduled for the Judge to decide if the juvenile defendant is or is not competent to stand trial. After reviewing the reports of the doctors and/or hearing testimony, the Judge makes a determination about the competency of the juvenile respondent. If the Judge determines that the respondent is competent, the case proceeds through the juvenile justice process.

If the juvenile respondent is found to be incompetent, the Judge may order the juvenile respondent to undergo mental health treatment until he/she becomes competent. When the juvenile becomes competent, the case proceeds through the juvenile justice process. If a Judge determines that the juvenile respondent is incompetent and will not become competent in the near future, the Judge has options: the Judge may order that the juvenile be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for treatment or the Judge may dismiss the charges and the juvenile is then released from custody.

Incompetence is different than insanity. Incompetent means an inability to assist in one's own defense while insanity means an inability to distinguish right from wrong.

Plea Agreements

Before the Adjudication Hearing, the Juvenile Prosecutor may discuss the possibility of a negotiated case settlement with the juvenile's defense attorney. The defense attorney may seek an agreement for the juvenile to plead guilty to the original charge(s) or to some lesser charge(s), a dismissal of certain charges, or a commitment from Juvenile Prosecutor not to file additional charges.

If an agreement is reached, the juvenile enters a plea of guilty as agreed, and signs a form declaring that he/she is knowingly giving up various rights, including his/her right to an Adjudication Hearing and the right to cross-examine witnesses. If you are a victim, you have the right to be present and to make a statement expressing your opinion about the plea agreement. The Judge may consider your opinion when deciding whether or not to accept the plea agreement. Upon the acceptance of the plea agreement, the Judge will enter a finding of delinquency against the juvenile respondent.


If a plea agreement is not reached, the case may go to an Adjudication Hearing (also called Fact-finding. All parties to the case, including the prosecution witnesses and defense witnesses, will be subpoenaed (summoned) to testify before a Judge. Witnesses may be excluded from the courtroom until they are finished testifying. The argument for this rule is to ensure that a witness is not influenced by the testimony of another witness. If you are a victim, you have the right to be present throughout the hearing. Since there are no jury trials in juvenile court, the Judge will determine whether or not the juvenile is innocent or guilty of committing a delinquent act after hearing the facts of the case.

At the Adjudication Hearing, the prosecution and the defense may make opening statements to the Judge to explain the case. The Juvenile Prosecutor then presents the case against the juvenile respondent. It is the responsibility of the State to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a delinquent act was committed and the juvenile respondent is guilty of committing the act. To meet this burden of proof, the Juvenile Prosecutor presents evidence and calls witnesses to testify. Witnesses are required to testify under oath and may be cross-examined by the juvenile's defense attorney.

After the prosecutor presents the case against the juvenile respondent, the defense has an opportunity to present its evidence. On advice of counsel, the juvenile may or may not testify. As is the case with prosecution witnesses, defense witnesses are subject to cross-examination by the prosecutor.

Following the defense's case, rebuttal witnesses may be called by the prosecutor to discredit statements and facts presented by the defense. At the end of the Adjudication Hearing, attorneys for the prosecution and defense make their final arguments to the Judge.

The prosecution must prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt." If the Judge makes a determination, after hearing all of the evidence, that the juvenile defendant is "not guilty," it means that in the Judge's opinion, the State failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and the juvenile defendant is released. If this occurs, the State cannot appeal the Judge's verdict and the matter cannot be retried. If the Judge determines that the juvenile defendant is delinquent, the Judge sets a date for the Disposition Hearing or the Disposition Hearing is held immediately.


If the juvenile defendant pleads guilty to the delinquent act, or if the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent (found guilty), the Judge mat set a date for the Disposition Hearing at a later date and request a Predisposition Report on the juvenile from Juvenile Probation Department. A Disposition Hearing must be held for a no later than 14 days after the adjudication of delinquency unless a later date is agreed to by the parties.

The Predisposition report discusses the juvenile delinquent's behavior, family life and any other delinquent act he/she may have committed and will contain a recommendation for a specific disposition or sentence. The Juvenile Probation Officer will contact the victim(s) as part of the investigation. The victim may also submit a written statement to the Judge through the Probation Officer or the Juvenile Prosecutor. This statement may contain the victim's request for restitution, the repayment of monetary losses suffered by the victim. In some situations, when either the Juvenile Prosecutor or the juvenile's defense attorney has strong feelings about the recommended disposition of the juvenile, testimony especially relevant to the disposition may be heard at the Disposition Hearing. If you are the victim of a delinquent act, you are allowed to make a statement to the Judge at the time of the juvenile's Disposition Hearing.

The Judge may order the defendant to pay restitution if the victim has suffered a monetary loss directly related to the delinquent act. If restitution is ordered by the Judge, it will be paid as a condition of probation or parole. Restitution payments are paid to the Clerk of the Court who then mails the payments to the victim.

Probation, Commitment to Juvenile Rehabilitation Authority, Parole

If the juvenile delinquent is placed on probation or intensive probation, they may be under many restrictions of conduct and travel. Any inappropriate action by a juvenile delinquent placed on probation, including unauthorized contact with victims and witnesses, should be reported to the Clallam County Juvenile Probation Office and the appropriate law enforcement agency.

A juvenile may be sentenced to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Authority until the age of 21. Normally, however, the court sentences a juvenile to a specific term (i.e. 25 weeks). Once the juvenile is released, he/she will be on parole under the supervision of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Authority until they deem it appropriate to end parole supervision.

If you are a victim, you have the right to be notified when the juvenile is released from confinement or if the juvenile escapes.


At any stage of the proceeding, the juvenile has the right to appeal any final order of the court. An appeal is a request from the juvenile through the juvenile's defense attorney asking for an appellate court to review the case to determine if all of the juvenile delinquent's rights were observed and the procedures and laws were followed. The Juvenile Prosecutor will handle the appeal on behalf of the State. Cases are reviewed on appeal in writing. In some cases, oral arguments of the attorneys are heard by the court. The testimony of victims and witnesses is not allowed.

Juvenile Offender Procedure, Juvenile Court Process Flowchart


The Juvenile Justice System uses deferent terms than does the Adult Criminal Justice System. Here are just a few of the differences.

Juvenile Justice System Adult Adult Criminal Justice System
Respondent Defendant
Delinquent Act/Offense Crime
Adjudication Hearing Trial
Found Delinquent Convicted/Found Guilty
Disposition Sentencing
Detention Jail
Juvenile Rehabilitation Authority Prison

Justice System Glossary

The following terms may be used in the course of the Juvenile Justice Process.

Adjudication Hearing

(also called a Fact-finding) the trial court proceeding in which it is determined whether the allegations of the Criminal Information are supported by legally admissible evidence.

Arraignment Hearing

The Juvenile is advised of the charges against him/her and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.


See Offense.

Criminal Information

the document filed by the State charging a juvenile with a crime.


questions asked of a witness by the attorney for the party who did not call the witness to testify.


the sending of a case from the juvenile court to adult court for trial.

Defense Attorney

an attorney employed by the defendant or the Public Defender's Office whose job is to represent the juvenile defendant's interests in criminal proceedings.


the commission of an illegal act by a juvenile. A child is "delinquent" when he/she has been found guilty.


secured facility run by the juvenile probation department. Adult equivalent is jail.


the process by which the prosecutor and defense attorney learn of the evidence the other party will present at trial.


In terms of the adult system, this would be known as sentencing.


See Adjudication Hearing.

First Appearance Hearing - Detention Hearing

a hearing to determine whether a juvenile should be detained or released.

Juvenile Prosecutor

an attorney employed by the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney's Office whose job is to prosecute those youth accused of committing offenses in Clallam County.

Juvenile Rehabilitation Authority

The State agency (under the D.S.H.S. system) that manages various secured juvenile facilities. Adult equivalent would be the prison system.


An act if committed by an adult would constitute a crime.

Plea Agreement

negotiation of an agreement between the prosecuting and defending counsel for an agreed disposition or penalty.


events that occur before the Adjudication Hearing.

Pre-Adjudication Interviews

informal interviews conducted by the prosecutor or defense attorney before the trial at which victims and witnesses are questioned about their knowledge of the crime(s).

Predisposition Report

a report prepared by a probation officer for the Judge's consideration at the Disposition Hearing. This report includes a review of the juvenile's behavior and family history.


in juvenile court, a disposition which allows the juvenile to remain at liberty under the supervision of a probation officer. Detention time can be imposed as part of probation.

Probable Cause

a determination made by the Judge as to the likelihood that the juvenile committed the offense.


a person under the age of eighteen (18) years of age who is charged with committing a delinquent act.


the amount of money that the Judge orders the juvenile to pay the victim as a condition of the juvenile defendant's sentence for the victim's out-of-pocket losses directly related to the delinquent act.


a legal document requiring the person named in the subpoena to appear on a stated day and time at a specified court to give testimony in a case.


a statement or declaration made to establish a fact or facts and given under oath.


a person who has seen or knows something about the delinquent act.