Judges are responsible for hearing court cases and serving the best interests of the offenders, victims and communities. Juvenile courts handle matters involving minors under age 18. Juvenile judges have many of the same responsibilities that adult court judges have; however, there are also some distinct differences.
Juvenile judges hear cases involving juveniles who are accused of crimes. They hear cases of youth up to age 18 who have been charged with crimes such as shoplifting, drug possession and burglary. Juvenile court judges may hear witness testimony and review reports submitted by the juvenile probation department. Like adult court judges, juvenile judges consider the seriousness of the crime and past criminal history. However, unlike adult court judges, juvenile judges also take into account factors such as age, home life and school behavior when making decisions about juvenile cases.
Juvenile dependency cases involve allegations of juvenile abuse or neglect. In these cases, a parent or legal guardian has been charged with mistreating a child, usually as a result of a report filed with child welfare services. The juvenile judge listens to the evidence presented and makes a determination about the parent's guilt or innocence and what would be best for the minor. If found guilty, the parent may be ordered to complete counseling or other services. If a judge determines the parent is unfit, he may sever the parental rights and order the child to be placed in a group home or foster care.
Because juvenile courts do not have juries, juvenile judges are solely responsible for determining sentences for crimes involving juveniles. They base their rulings on evidence presented during the case by attorneys and witnesses. Judges can order youth to complete community service, counseling or drug treatment as well as serve time in a juvenile detention center.
Basic duties of juvenile judges include interpreting and enforcing juvenile criminal laws set by the local jurisdiction or state government. Juvenile judges must know and understand the laws and be fair when handing down sentences. Judges serve as "referees" between the prosecution and the defense by maintaining order in the court room. Juvenile judges must maintain confidentiality of minors in their courtrooms. Judges have a great deal of power and responsibility. They can issue juvenile warrants, detain and/or release minors from custody, and dismiss cases.