When a minor child is accused of breaking the law in Wisconsin, a juvenile delinquency action is brought against them.  The juvenile justice system is used differently than the adult criminal justice system; the goal is to connect juveniles with the resources they need to correct their behavior and to allow them to avoid incurring criminal charges as an adult. 

It is rare that a juvenile will be taken out of their home and placed in a detention center on their first offense, though it can happen.  The most common outcome is that the juvenile is placed on supervision for a period of time, during which he or she must follow a set of rules and meet regularly with their assigned social worker.  The most common supervision rules include following curfew, following their parents’ rules, avoiding further law enforcement contact/crimes, and attending school regularly (typically things the juvenile needs to be doing anyhow).

Children younger than 10 cannot be adjudicated delinquent (i.e. convicted of crimes and brought into the juvenile system).  Wis. Stat. § 938.12(1).  However, if a child under 10 is suspected of committing a crime, the State will typically initiate a JIPS action, or a Juvenile in Need of Protection Action.  Wis. Stat. § 938.13(12).  A JIPS action is brought when it is alleged that the parent is unable or needs assistance to control the juvenile, or when the juvenile is habitually truant from school or home.  The goal of a JIPS action is to get the parent and the juvenile the resources needed and avoid out of home placement/further problematic behavior.

It is important to note that in Wisconsin a person is considered an adult and can be charged with a crime at the age of 17 years old.  See Wis. Stat. §938.12(2).  This is so even if the person is still attending high school.

Below is an outline of the court proceedings in a typical juvenile delinquency case.

Initial Contact

A juvenile is brought into the justice system after a report is made that the juvenile broke a law (other than a traffic law or non-criminal ordinance offense).  Often times at this initial contact phase, law enforcement or a social worker will reach out to the juvenile and ask them to make a statement about what happened.  If a police officer attempts to speak with your child, you should tell your child not to make a statement and you should contact a criminal defense attorney right away. 

  Intake

The first scheduled hearing in a juvenile delinquency case is called the intake hearing.  At this hearing, the juvenile does not actually go before the judge or meet the District Attorney (the person bringing the action).  Instead, the juvenile and their parent/guardian meet with a social worker or intake worker to discuss the allegations.  The intake worker makes a recommendation about whether juvenile charges should be filed or not.  Their recommendation is then forwarded to the District Attorney who has a limited time to make a decision as to whether or not to bring a delinquency action against the juvenile. 

 The Petition

The District Attorney is not bound by the intake worker’s recommendation. The District Attorney may decide to file a delinquency petition, which officially starts the juvenile delinquency court process.  The District Attorney may also elect not to bring a petition and to end the investigation, or to enter some other type of agreement with the juvenile.  If a delinquency petition is filed against your child, or if the District Attorney or intake worker wants your child to enter into an agreement with the State regarding an allegation of delinquency, you should contact a criminal defense attorney before moving forward.

  Hearings

There are various hearings a juvenile is required to attend in a delinquency action.  After the initial intake, there is a plea hearing before a judge where the juvenile is required to either Admit or Deny the allegations of the petition.  If the juvenile Admits the allegations, a dispositional hearing is scheduled during which a Judge will decide what should happen to the juvenile as a result of his/her actions.  If a juvenile Denies the allegations of the petition at the plea hearing, a fact-finding hearing is scheduled.  A fact-finding hearing is essentially a trial; during the fact-finding hearing, the District Attorney must prove to a judge that the juvenile committed the offenses in question.  If the District Attorney fails to prove this, the case is dismissed.  If the District Attorney succeeds, a dispositional hearing is scheduled. 

Dispositional Orders

At the conclusion of a delinquency case, a juvenile attends a dispositional hearing.  Dispositional hearings determine the legal resolution of the case (similar to a sentencing hearing in adult criminal court). At or after the hearing, a Judge enters a Dispositional Order which outlines his ruling about the case, what services are needed, which agencies to work with the juvenile, conditions that the juvenile must follow, and any out-of-home placement orders, if applicable.

While these are some guidelines to help you navigate through the juvenile court system, each case is unique.  If your child has been accused of a crime, you should contact us right away. Our criminal defense attorneys at Doar, Drill & Skow fight hard to protect children from unnecessary punishments that could jeopardize their futures.

Since 1883, the attorneys at Doar, Drill & Skow have represented families, individuals and businesses across Wisconsin and Minnesota in areas of personal injury, criminal defense, family law and divorce, civil litigation, estate planning, and trusts, workers compensation and more. We are recognized as one of western Wisconsin’s most skilled and successful personal injury law firms and have built our reputation on what we achieve for our clients. We are committed to being your advocate, regardless of your circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: The Doar, Drill, and Skow blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported may come from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these types of situations choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.