The first thing you need to know about juvenile matters in the court system is that they’re treated and handled quite differently from adults. The cases tend to move much faster. Unless a juvenile offender is “waived” into adult court, you will not be allowed in to report on many of the proceedings involving a juvenile.
If you inappropriately reveal the identity of a juvenile or the juvenile’s family, you’ll be in big trouble, because it usually constitutes contempt of court.
There is one big exception. As a reporter, you can attend and report on a case in juvenile court if it involves a juvenile who was judged delinquent in a previous case, and is now charged with a violation which would be a felony if it were committed by an adult.
There are basically two different types of juvenile cases in Wisconsin and each has a different procedure. Juveniles who are in need of protective services because they’re abused, neglected, or abandoned, are treated quite differently from those who deliberately commit inappropriate acts.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has an excellent website to help you understand the guidelines that apply to juveniles, and the definition of legal and procedural words you might encounter when reporting on juvenile matters. It will clearly explain terms like CHIPS (Child Protective Services), JIPS (Juveniles in need of protection) and GAL (Guardian ad Litem). In JIPS and delinquency cases, the juvenile has a right to an attorney. There is a link to this site on the right margin of this page.
Wisconsin has a fairly new set of laws involving juveniles age 10 through 16. Their cases are usually heard in juvenile court, but some are waived into adult court. Once you turn 17, if you’re charged with a crime, the case will be heard in adult court. If a juvenile commits a crime after he or she turns 15, the case may be waived into adult court. For those who are under 15, a judge may decide if their case will go to adult court based on how serious the offense is, the juvenile’s prior record, and a number of other factors. IMPORTANT NOTE: There is a strong move to change Wisconsin law so that 17-year-olds are not automatically treated as adults. Legislation to make this change is pending, and if a change in the law is made, this page will be updated to reflect that change.
You should also know that in the case of a very serious crime a juvenile is charged with, such as first degree intentional homicide, the adult court will have original jurisdiction. The juvenile may request waiver to juvenile court but it’s up to the judge. And, once a juvenile has been waived into adult court, all future cases involving that juvenile will be heard in adult court.
Here’s a bit more about the difference between juveniles who need help, and juveniles who commit offenses. Chapter 48 of the Wisconsin Statutes applies to young people who are under 18 and need help because they were abused, abandoned, or not adequately cared for. The inability of a parent to provide adequate treatment for a juvenile is covered under these laws, even things like failing to immunize a child. The court will focus on what’s best for the juvenile.
Chapter 938 deals with juveniles who may also need protective services, but have committed an offense for which they’ve been given a citation. When a juvenile commits an offense, it’s up to the police to decide if it’s appropriate to write a ticket. The juvenile’s parents may be required to attend any court proceedings, and there are a wide variety of ways of handling a juvenile found guilty, like paying a fine, getting counseling, losing a driver’s license, or being ordered to do community service. The state Corrections Department website can help you understand how these procedures work.