Juvenile Criminal Process for Children in Custody

The process for children charged with criminal offenses in juvenile court is much the same for both those children that are in custody and those that are not. The real difference is how the process begins.

With children out of custody, the process begins with a preliminary inquiry. For those in custody, the process began with the arrest and detention of the child. Arrest and detention typically means that the child was caught in the act of a crime by law enforcement. The arrest could be for both misdemeanor and felony offenses.

The child will then typically have a detention hearing . The detention hearing serves two purposes. First, it serves also as the child’s First Appearance where he or she will enter a plea of not guilty. Second, the Hearing Officer will determine whether the child should be released, to whom the child should be released, and the conditions of release.

It is possible the child is released without the necessity of a detention hearing. In fact, this is the case for most minor offenses. Many times, a child will not be held for minor misdemeanor offenses. Instead, the parents or guardian will be contacted to allow the retrieval of the child from the juvenile detention center.

On the other hand, a child will almost always be held pending a detention hearing for felony charges. Though a child is generally not held for minor misdemeanor cases, misdemeanor domestic violence cases receive very different treatment. This typically results from the fact that it was the parents or guardian that initiated the arrest of the child. The cautious treatment of these cases also reflects the seriousness with which domestic violence is treated in New Mexico. All New Mexico courts take protection of victims of domestic violence very seriously. The juvenile courts, if anything, are even more protective due to the possible dangers to the child, the family, siblings and/or guardians. As such, the child is not immediately released back into the same environment without a detention hearing to address the home environment and the safety of all those who may be affected by the child’s release from detention back into the home.

Whether the child is released or held pending the final resolution of the case, once the child is past the detention hearing, the juvenile criminal process proceeds in the same manner as the out of custody cases. However, in-custody proceedings where the child was not released at the detention hearing typically suggest more serious offenses with fewer options for resolution. These cases are much more likely to go to a full trial on the merits because of the lack of options for resolution.

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