How is the Juvenile Criminal System Different from the Adult Criminal System in Utah?

Having one of your children be charged with a crime is one of a parent’s worst nightmares. A parent’s natural instincts will be to fear for their child’s safety and rush to their protection. While every parent will want to protect their child, most will not know how to handle the situation. In difficult circumstances like these, you need competent professional help.

Juvenile court is slightly different than court proceedings for adults. In general, juvenile court is less focused on punishing your child and more focused on doing whatever they can to make sure they get back on the right track and can be productive, upstanding adults. However, the procedures of juvenile court are not always the same as those for court proceedings involving adults, so attorneys with some special legal knowledge can help give your child the best chance at a successful outcome.

To discuss your child’s case for free, call the Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at the number (801) 758-2287.

The Juvenile Court System vs. the Adult Court System in Utah

There are some key differences between juvenile courts and regular courts in Utah. The juvenile court system is a separate entity from the regular court system in Utah. Accordingly, it has different rules as well as a different purpose. Our juvenile defense lawyers know how to navigate both legal systems to effectively represent your child no matter what direction their case takes. The juvenile court system is designed to help ensure that young offenders can change, be rehabilitated, and avoid future run-ins with the law. Thus, the juvenile court system is less focused on serious punishment than the adult court system.


One of the first steps in any trial involving adults is a hearing where the judge establishes bail for the defendant, if any. However, there is usually no bail involved in juvenile court proceedings. This is because courts will ensure that they have a known address and that the juvenile will be staying with family or another person responsible for them. They may, however, set terms of release, which could include a GPS anklet or restrictions on what the child can do, who they can interact with, and – of course – a requirement to stay away from other crimes or drug use.

Under some circumstances, a child may not be able to be released by the court system. This is usually only the case when the child has committed a “holdable” offense. These offenses are more serious crimes like the distribution of controlled substances or possessing a dangerous weapon like an illegal firearm.

Preliminary Inquiry

Another distinct feature of the juvenile court system that is not present in the adult system is something called the preliminary inquiry. This is a hearing where your child will be asked questions by a court official about their life, background, and other matters. The questions may seem innocuous, but they are designed to assess the juvenile defendant and figure out the best course of action for their situation.

This process can be difficult for some juveniles to handle, so it may be a good idea to have them meet with our lawyers so they know what to expect and do not get flustered and answer a question in a way they did not mean to, which could negatively impact their situation.

Court Hearings

If a non-judicial remedy does not appear to be a good fit for your child, the case will then move on to juvenile court proceedings. Juvenile court proceedings have some distinct differences from adult court proceedings. First, juvenile court proceedings are closed to the public. There will be no media presence or outside observers besides attorneys and the child’s parents. Second, there is no jury. This means that the judge acts as both the interpreter of the law and the finder of fact. Usually, the jury considers whether the facts are true or not. In juvenile court proceedings, the judge takes over this role. Finally, juveniles are not “guilty” or “not guilty” after juvenile court proceedings. Their case is “adjudicated true” or “adjudicated untrue.”

Moreover, juvenile records are sealed once your child turns 18, so they will not necessarily show up on background checks.

Adult Charges for Juveniles

In some cases, your child can be charged as an adult instead of a juvenile. This usually happens when the alleged crime is particularly serious. In those cases, court proceedings will be exactly the same as any other adult court case because it is being held in the standard court system.

Some crimes, like murder, require that a juvenile be charged as an adult. Additionally, if the crime your child is accused of is a felony and they have spent time in a “secured facility” previously, your child must be tried as an adult. A secured facility is any place boxed in by a fence meant to stop people from leaving.

Other criminal charges only have the option of being sent up to the adult court system. Serious crimes like aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson, and attempted murder can be tried as if the offender were an adult, provided that the child is 16 or 17 years old.

Finally, if the prosecution can convince the court that an adult trial is the best course of action and the child is over the age of 14, the case can be sent to the adult court system.

Our lawyers know that it can be incredibly stressful to worry about whether your child will be sent to the adult court system, which is much more punishing. We can work to fight for your child’s case to stay in the juvenile court system and focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment.

Get Help from Our Utah Juvenile Defense Lawyers Today

Overson Law’s juvenile defense lawyers are available round-the-clock to assist you and your child with your legal matters when you call (801) 758-2287.