How Does Kentucky's Juvenile Court Process Work?

June 1, 2010

What happens if your son or daughter is arrested? How does the Kentucky juvenile court process work? These are painful questions for any parent to consider, but very important should the worst case scenario occur.

In order to eliminate some of a parent’s confusion about what happens, when and with whom, here is a quick primer on what Kentucky Juvenile Court looks like.

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Kentucky considers anyone under age 18 to be a juvenile, and has established a juvenile justice system structured to protect the best interests of the child. Based on the type and severity of the alleged crime, the system classifies juvenile offenders in three categories:

  • Status Offenders: Juveniles engaged in activities that wouldn’t be considered a crime if they were over 18 (For example: runaways, truants, “beyond control of parents or school,” etc.). These offenses rarely result in court appearances.
  • Public Offenders: Juveniles engaged in activities considered criminal regardless of their age (For example: theft, receiving stolen property, possession of controlled substances, sexual offenses.)
  • Youthful Offenders: Juveniles charged with serious crimes, and who may be transferred to Circuit Court to be tried as an adult (For example: commission of Class A or B felony, use of firearms in commission of felony, capital murder.)

The following juvenile court process is used for Public Offenders, and to determine whether Youthful Offenders are to be transferred to Circuit Court.

The juvenile is read the court petition (outlining the charges), and has his or her rights fully explained. The youth will confer with legal counsel (appointed by the court, if necessary), and is given an opportunity to enter a plea, which her or she is not required to do at this time.

Detention Hearing
If the juvenile is being incarcerated, a hearing is held to determine whether the detention should continue. In the hearing, the prosecutor must show probable cause that the youth committed the offense, and that juvenile detention is appropriate.

Informal Adjustment
An agreement reached after arraignment that the best interest of the child would be best served by not trying the case in court. The adjustment must be approved by the court.

Pretrial Conference
A meeting between the juvenile, his or her lawyer, and prosecutor to determine his or her plea based the sentence recommended. If a non-guilty plea is entered, a trial is scheduled. If a guilty plea is entered, a sentencing hearing is scheduled.

Adjudicatory Hearing (In other words, a trial)
A hearing on the facts of the case conducted by a District Court judge, at which both the prosecutor and defense may call witnesses and present evidence. If, after the adjudicatory hearing, the youth is found not-guilty, no further court appearances are necessary. If found guilty, a sentencing hearing is scheduled.

Dispositional Hearing (In other words, a sentencing)
The juvenile is assigned a court worker from the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice to interview the youth and recommend disposing (or sentencing) the case in the manner most beneficial to both the youth and community at large.

We never like to think about the worst possible scenario involving our children. But it’s at least useful to know what your options are if your child ever becomes part of Kentucky’s juvenile court system. If this happens, be sure to consult an attorney and get professional help.

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