Making Sense of Kentucky’s Juvenile Crimes and Procedures
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 by Kristin Russell
Most Kentucky Juvenile prosecutions begin with a preliminary inquiry performed by a Court Designated Worker who assesses the case and informs the child and his or her parent or guardian whether the juvenile is eligible for any diversion programs. At the request of the county attorney or the child, however, the juvenile case may be referred directly to juvenile court.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MY CHILD IS ARRESTED FOR A JUVENILE CRIME?
Any child detained by the county has a right to a confidential juvenile detention hearing within twenty-four (24) hours, exclusive of weekends and holidays, if accused of a status offense, or within forty-eight (48) hours, exclusive of weekends and holidays, if accused of a public offense. KRS 610.265. The purpose of the detention hearing is for the court to determine whether the child should be further detained. Some of the factors that the court should consider are the nature of the offense, the child’s background and history, and other information relevant to the child’s conduct or condition.
After the court determines whether the child should be detained, confidential juvenile court proceedings begin with an arraignment during which the child, who is accompanied by a parent or guardian, should be advised of his or her rights. At the arraignment, the child will be given an opportunity to admit or deny the offense.
If the child makes an admission on the record, the case will be scheduled for a disposition hearing, which is similar to an adult sentencing hearing. If the juvenile denies the offense, the case will be scheduled for an adjudication hearing, which is similar to a court trial in front of a judge. At the adjudication hearing, the juvenile may be found not guilty or adjudged delinquent. Should the court make a finding of delinquency, the case will then be scheduled for the aforementioned disposition hearing.
WHAT ARE JUVENILE CRIMES IN KENTUCKY AND HOW ARE THEY PROSECUTED?
Juvenile offenses are either “public offenses” or “status offenses.” These terms are defined by statute:
“Public offense action” means an action, excluding contempt, brought in the interest of a child who is accused of committing an offense under KRS Chapter 527 or a public offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a crime, whether the same is a felony, misdemeanor, or violation, other than an action alleging that a child sixteen (16) years of age or older has committed a motor vehicle offense.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 600.020(50) (West 2016).
NOTE: In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, juvenile public offenses, with the exception of motor vehicle offenses committed by a child sixteen (16) years of age or older, are prosecuted during a confidential juvenile session of the county’s District Court (unless the child is being tried as an adult, or a youthful offender, in Circuit Court).
(a)”Status offense action” is any action brought in the interest of a child who is
accused of committing acts, which if committed by an adult, would not be a crime. Such behavior shall not be considered criminal or delinquent and such children shall be termed status offenders. Status offenses shall include:
- Beyond the control of school or beyond the control of parents;
- Habitual runaway;
- Habitual truant;
- Tobacco offenses as provided in KRS 438.305 to 438.340; and
- Alcohol offenses as provided in KRS 244.085.
(b) Status offenses shall not include violations of state or local ordinances which may apply to children such as a violation of curfew.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 600.020(64) (West 2016).
NOTE: In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, juvenile status offenses are prosecuted during a confidential juvenile session of the county’s Family Court (or district court in smaller Kentucky counties that do not have a family court).
WHAT TYPE OF SENTENCE IS MY CHILD FACING IN JUVENILE COURT?
OPTIONS OF COURT AT DISPOSITIONAL HEARING
The following are only examples of what the juvenile court may order (For specifics about probation, commitment and detention, see KRS 635.060):
- Order your child to pay restitution or reparation to any injured person
- Order parents or guardians to pay restitution or reparation to any injured person if the court finds that the person’s failure to exercise reasonable control or supervision was a substantial factor in the child’s delinquency
- Place the child on supervised probation in the child’s own home or in a suitable home or boarding home (A child placed on probation shall be subject to the visitation and supervision of a probation officer or an employee of the Department of Juvenile Justice.) For specifics about the terms, conditions and duration of probation, see KRS 635.060.
- Commit the child to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice, or grant guardianship to a child-caring facility, a child-placing agency authorized to care for the child, or place the child under the custody and supervision of a suitable person. For specifics about the terms, conditions and duration of commitment, see KRS 635.060.
- If the child is fourteen (14) years of age but less than sixteen (16) years of age, order that the child be confined in an approved secure juvenile detention facility, juvenile holding facility, or approved detention program as authorized by the Department of Juvenile Justice for a period of time not to exceed forty-five (45) days; or
- Any combination of the dispositions listed above except that, if a court probates or suspends a commitment in conjunction with any other dispositional alternative, that fact shall be explained to the juvenile and contained in a written order.
If the child is sixteen (16) years of age or older, order that the child be confined in an approved secure juvenile detention facility, juvenile holding facility, or approved detention program as authorized by the Department of Juvenile Justice for a period of time not to exceed ninety (90) days. For specifics about the terms, conditions and duration of detention, see KRS 635.060.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 635.060 (West 2016).
CAN MY JUVENILE CHILD BE TRIED AS AN ADULT?
Depending on the type of the offense committed and the child’s age, the county attorney may file a motion to transfer the juvenile case to adult court. Should this occur, the child has a right to a confidential transfer hearing in order for the court to determine whether the child meets the criteria to be tried as an adult, or a youthful offender. KRS 635.020. The transfer process is either automatic by statute or discretionary as determined by the court.
Preliminary Hearing for Discretionary Transfer:
- At the preliminary hearing, the court shall determine if there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed, that the child committed the offense, and that the child is of sufficient age and has the requisite number of prior adjudications, if any, necessary to fall within the purview of KRS 635.020.
- If the District Court determines probable cause exists, the court shall consider the following factors before determining whether the child’s case shall be transferred to the Circuit Court:
- If, following the completion of the preliminary hearing, the District Court finds, after considering the factors enumerated in paragraph (b) of this subsection, that two (2) or more of the factors specified in paragraph (b) of this subsection are determined to favor transfer, the child may be transferred to Circuit Court, and if the child is transferred, the District Court shall issue an order transferring the child as a youthful offender and shall state on the record the reasons for the transfer. The child shall then be proceeded against in the Circuit Court as an adult, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
- If, following completion of the preliminary hearing, the District Court is of the opinion, after considering the factors enumerated in paragraph (b) of this subsection, that the child shall not be transferred to the Circuit Court, the case shall be dealt with as provided in KRS Chapter 635.
- The seriousness of the alleged offense;
- Whether the offense was against persons or property, with greater weight being given to offenses against persons;
- The maturity of the child as determined by his environment;
- The child’s prior record;
- The best interest of the child and community;
- The prospects of adequate protection of the public;
- The likelihood of reasonable rehabilitation of the child by the use of procedures, services, and facilities currently available to the juvenile justice system; and
- Evidence of a child’s participation in a gang.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 640.010(2) (West 2016).
Under KRS 635.020(4), a court does not have to consider the factors enumerated above and the child shall automatically be transferred to circuit court to be tried as an adult if the district court finds:
- probable cause to believe,
- the child committed a felony,
- that a firearm was used in the commission of the felony, and
- the child was fourteen (14) years of age or older at the time of the commission of the alleged felony.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 635.020 (West 2016).
DOES MY CHILD NEED AN ATTORNEY FOR A JUVENILE CASE?
The attendance of parents and representation by counsel are crucial at every stage of juvenile proceedings, especially detention hearings, transfer hearings and disposition hearings. Juvenile defendants in the Commonwealth of Kentucky are automatically appointed a public defender, but that attorney may be responsible for all of the juvenile cases in a particular county. If your child is facing criminal charges, you should contact an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney who has the resources to give your child’s case the time and attention it deserves.
If you believe that your child may be a youthful offender and may be tried as an adult, or the county attorney has already filed a motion to transfer your child’s case to circuit court, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable about the current provisions of both the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code and the Kentucky Penal Code.
Kristin Russell is an experienced criminal defense attorney representing juveniles who have been charged with serious public offenses including felony and misdemeanor crimes in Kentucky.