Children are apt to make mistakes without fully realizing the consequences of their actions. In Utah, juvenile court is not a criminal court but rather a civil court. Offenses a juvenile admits to are not “convictions” like they would be in adult court but are civil commitments. Juvenile court is largely confidential and not open to the public.
In Utah, the primary focus of the juvenile court is to rehabilitate the offender. A judge will look first at options designed to help the juvenile make better choices in the future. Common corrective methods are counseling, probation, community service hours, fines, and detention days.
In cases where the treatment needs of the juvenile cannot be met while remaining in the home, the judge can send the juvenile to an out-of-home “community placement.” The object of such programs is to teach skills needed to make better choices and then reintegrate them back into their home. In extreme cases where a juvenile has been afforded the services of probation and community-based placements, the judge can order secure confinement. This is a maximum security facility where treatment and education is received. A juvenile may be held in secure confinement until age 21 but is usually released much sooner.
Some crimes are so serious they may be tried in adult court and the process to determine appropriateness is handled by one of three methods— Direct File, Serious Youth Offender, and Certification.
- Direct filing occurs automatically when the juvenile is at least 16 years old and is alleged to have committed murder or attempted murder, or when the juvenile had already been committed to secure care and thereafter commits a felony. A change to this rule is expected in 2013.
- The Serious Youth Offender Act applies when the juvenile is at least 16 years old and commits one often specified aggravated crimes. It can also be utilized for certain serious offenses if the youth had already committed a prior felony-level offense involving a dangerous weapon. A preliminary hearing is held after charges are filed and the State must show it appears reasonable the crime was committed.