JUVENILE OFFENSE PROCEEDINGS

When a juvenile is alleged to have committed a criminal offense, the prosecutor’s office screens the matter to determine if the allegations are legally sufficient to file charges or divert the case.  The case must be diverted if the alleged offense is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and is the offender’s first offense.  The mandatory diversion rule does not apply if the case involves more than one offense.

Diversion is a way of dealing with juvenile offenders without going to court and without a trial before a judge.  The juvenile signs a diversion agreement which is a contract between the juvenile and the diversion unit.  The agreement may require the juvenile offender to perform community service; attend counseling, informational, or educational interviews; and/or pay restitution; but the juvenile cannot be sent to detention.  The diverted offense will be part of the juvenile’s criminal history.  The juvenile has a right to talk to a lawyer concerning the juvenile’s decision to enter into a diversion agreement.  A lawyer will be appointed if the juvenile is financially unable to obtain a lawyer for the consultation.  The juvenile does not have a right to have a free lawyer appointed to work out the actual terms of the diversion agreement but does have a right to hire a lawyer to do so at his or her own expense.

A prosecuting attorney may decline to prosecute, even though technically sufficient evidence to prosecute exists, in situations where prosecution would serve no public purpose, would defeat the underlying purpose of the law in question, or would result in decreased respect for the law.

If a case is not diverted or declined, the prosecutor invokes juvenile court jurisdiction over a juvenile offense proceeding by filing a charging document called an Information.  Generally, when an Information is filed, the juvenile court will direct the clerk to issue a summons to command the juvenile and his or her parents to appear at court.  The court may direct the clerk to issue a warrant for the arrest of the juvenile.

The juvenile has the right to a lawyer in all criminal offense proceedings and, if the juvenile cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for him or her.

The juvenile must be arraigned within 14 days of the filing of the Information if the juvenile is held in detention or is subject to conditions of release.  At the arraignment, the court provides the juvenile notice of his or her rights and reads the charges in the Information, unless the reading is waived.  If the juvenile pleads guilty at arraignment, the court will impose disposition (sentence).  If the juvenile enters a “not guilty” plea, the court will schedule an adjudicatory hearing (trial) within 30 days if the juvenile is held in detention or within 60 days if the juvenile is not held in detention.

The disposition hearing (sentencing) must be held within 14 days after the plea or trial if the juvenile is held in detention, or 21 days if the juvenile is not held in detention.  Either time may be extended for good cause shown.

DEPENDENCY PROCEEDINGS

Dependency matters are generally handled by the Washington State Attorney General's Office.  Actions alleging dependency or seeking the termination of the parent-child relationship are governed by RCW 13.34 and the Juvenile Court Rules.  Juvenile court jurisdiction is invoked over dependency proceedings by filing a petition.  Any person may file a petition alleging a dependency.  JuCR 3.2  The petition must be filed in the county where the juvenile is located or where the juvenile resides.

TRUANCIES

Washington State’s compulsory school attendance laws require parents of children eight years of age and under eighteen years of age to have such children attend school or receive home-based instruction.  School authorities and juvenile courts are required to enforce these laws.

If a child fails to attend school without valid justification, the school in which the child is enrolled is required to inform the child’s parent(s) or guardian(s) whenever the child has failed to attend school after one unexcused absence within any month during the school year.  The school schedules a conference with the parents and child after two unexcused absences within any month.  If the actions taken by the school district are not successful in substantially reducing the student’s absences, the law requires the school district to file a truancy petition with the juvenile court not later than the seventh unexcused absence within any month or not later than the tenth unexcused absence during the current school year. 

When a truancy petition is filed, a court hearing is scheduled and notice of the hearing is sent to the child, the parent, and the school district.  At the hearing, if the court finds that the allegations in the petition are established by a preponderance of the evidence, the court will grant the petition and enter an order requiring the student to return to and remain in school.  The student’s parent(s) will be ordered to exercise reasonable diligence to cause the student to comply with all the terms of the Order Compelling School Attendance. The order may remain in effect until the student reaches the age of 18, graduates, or obtains a G.E.D.  In no case may the order expire before the end of the school year in which it is entered.

Once the court grants the truancy petition and enters an Order Compelling Attendance, the school district is required to report to the court any additional unexcused absences by the child.  Violation of the Order Compelling School Attendance may result in civil penalties including up to seven days of detention for the student and a fine of $25 for each unexcused absence for the parent(s), or alternatives such as community service.

If the child relocates to another county, the juvenile court in the receiving county shall, upon the request of a school district or parent, assume jurisdiction of the petition filed in the previous county.

AT-RISK YOUTH

Juvenile court jurisdiction is invoked over an At-Risk Youth by filing a petition.  RCW 13.32A.192; JuCR 5A.1. When a proper petition has been filed, the court will schedule a fact-finding hearing.  Generally, the hearing is scheduled within 5 calendar days for a child who resides in a place other than his or her parent’s home or within 10 days for a child living at home.  If the 5th calendar day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the hearing must be held on the preceding judicial day.

Parents have the right to be represented by an attorney at their own expense.  The hearing to consider a disposition plan shall be held within 14 days after the fact-finding hearing.  Upon making a disposition regarding an adjudicated at-risk youth, the court shall schedule the matter for review within 3 months.

Information and paperwork for At-Risk Youth or Children in Need of Services (CHINS) can be obtained at the Douglas County Juvenile Department.  Upon completing the petition, the petitioner must obtain an assessment from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).  Once the assessment is obtained, the Douglas County Juvenile Department will file the petition with the court and schedule a hearing.