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Sentencing in Juvenile Court

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Juvenile courts operate in different, yet similar, ways as adult courts. Courts who designate juveniles as delinquent, or guilty of a crime, may impose a wide range of sentencing options, including incarceration and non-incarceration pathways. If you or a loved one is facing charges in juvenile court, you may be subject to any of the following penalties.

Incarceration Options for Washington Minors

Juvenile courts may order incarceration as a penalty, although juvenile offenders are subject to different incarceration methods than adults. Some of the most common incarceration options for juveniles include the following.

  • Juvenile detention: Some juvenile offenders may go to a detention facility for minors, often known as a juvenile hall. This incarceration option is usually only for short-term stays.
  • House arrest: Some minors must go on house arrest, and they may only leave their home to attend school, go to work, attend counseling, or other exceptions the court specifies.
  • Placement with an alternative family: A judge may place a minor with a different relative, in foster care, or in a group home.
  • Long-term juvenile facilities: Some juvenile offenders must go to secure facilities for long periods of time. These sentences can last months, or even years.
  • Adult jail: In some situations, a judge may send a juvenile to an adult incarceration facility, such as a county jail.
  • Probation: After attending a juvenile detention, a minor may have to go on probation after his or her release. Violation of probation can lead to additional consequences.
  • Juvenile and adult jail: In certain situations, a juvenile may begin his or her sentence at a juvenile facility, and transfer to an adult facility once he or she reaches the right age.

Alternatives to Incarceration for Juvenile Offenders

While incarceration is a common sentencing option among juvenile courts, Washington law provides judges with the discretion necessary to create a sentencing plan that fits the situation and needs of the juvenile delinquent. In addition to or instead of incarceration, a judge may assign any of the following non-incarceration options for juvenile offenses.

  • Probation: Like with incarceration options, a judge may order a juvenile to undergo probation after finding he or she violated criminal law.
  • Community service: Juveniles may need to work a certain number of hours helping their communities.
  • Counseling: A juvenile may have some unresolved emotional issues that require counseling, and a judge may order him or her to attend sessions with a trained professional.
  • Fines: A juvenile may need to pay a certain amount in fines, either to a victim directly or to the government.
  • Warnings: A juvenile may receive a verbal warning from a judge after violating the law. Warnings usually only occur after a first offense.
  • Electronic monitoring devices: If a juvenile is on house arrest or cannot leave his or her local area, a judge may order him or her to wear an electronic tracking device on the wrists or ankles.

Probation is usually the most common non-incarceration sentencing option. During probation, a minor cannot engage in certain activities and must report regularly to a probation officer. Penalties for violating probation orders may result in a harsher sentence, such as incarceration.

Can You Appeal a Juvenile Sentencing Order?

Juveniles have the right to appeal or modify a sentencing decision they believe is unjust. However, appealing or modifying a sentence can be difficult alone — minors should consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to understand their options and build a compelling defense in the courtroom.

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