Juvenile Division Chief:
A Message from the Prosecuting Attorney:
The intent of the Michigan juvenile justice system remains the rehabilitation and discipline of juvenile offenders balanced against the safety needs of the community. Juvenile offenders present opportunities for change that most hardened adult offenders do not. Young people cannot be expected to have the same values and judgment as adults. This is especially true if they have been raised in an atmosphere of poverty, neglect, and abuse. Swift and effective intervention can often mean the difference between a law-abiding life and a career of crime. If we do not deal appropriately with them as juveniles, we will most certainly deal with them later as adults, and the costs will be much greater.
Mere treatment, counseling, and community service can never be the only solution to a violent crime. It matters little to a victim's family that the person who murdered their loved one was 15 or 16 years old instead of 17. The Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney will not hesitate in using the adult criminal justice system, when allowable by law, to seek the strongest charges available in response to violent and repeat criminals. Our target in such circumstances is on the relatively few offenders who commit violent crimes. The victims of those crimes and our community deserve no less.
This office also has a firm commitment to the representation of the Department of Human Services regarding the protection of abused and neglected children. We in this office, as in the entire Macomb County community, place a high priority on the protection of its most vulnerable citizens. To that end we will provide the highest quality legal representation to ensure that it shouldn't hurt to be a child.
Eric J. Smith
Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney
The Juvenile Court is part of the Family Division of Circuit Court. The Juvenile Division of the Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office plays a key role in holding juveniles accountable for their criminal acts. In Michigan an individual who commits a misdemeanor or felony prior to his or her seventeenth birthday is treated as a juvenile. This division is responsible for the review of submitted police reports for legal sufficiency of criminal charges, charging juveniles with the appropriate offense, and following the case through the court system until the juvenile is adjudicated as a delinquent ward of the court. We place a strong emphasis on rehabilitating young offenders to prevent recidivism. Less serious offenses may be diverted to a community-based program, or where appropriate the juvenile “drug court” for those young people struggling with substance abuse problems.
While rehabilitation is the central focus of the juvenile delinquency system, The Juvenile Division aggressively prosecutes the most serious offenders, some of whom are occasionally “ waived” to adult court. In those circumstances the juvenile will be treated as an adult, and may very well face imprisonment in the adult criminal justice system. In addition to the responsibility of managing delinquency matters, the Juvenile Division acts as the legal consultant to the Macomb County Department of Human Services in child abuse and neglect matters.
When the Department of Human Services (DHS) substantiates a case of abuse or neglect of a child, the agency will present a petition to the court requesting removal of the child from the parental home. A Juvenile Division Assistant Prosecutor will appear at the initial or preliminary hearing conducted within 24 hours of the child’s removal. The Juvenile Division attorney will consult and advise the DHS throughout the course of the case, and will represent the agency at all subsequent court hearings. In cases of serious physical abuse, sexual abuse, or where a parent has been given time to rectify a problem but has failed to do so, the Juvenile Division will represent the agency in the subsequent trial seeking court termination of parental rights.
In handling both delinquency and child protective proceedings, the Juvenile Division Assistant Prosecutors consult with police officers, school officials, court staff, DHS child protective services and foster care workers, mental health professionals, parents, children, crime victims and witnesses. The Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney’s Juvenile Division staffs a Chief Attorney, four Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, two support staff assistants, and one Victim Rights Advocate.
Individuals violating the law prior to their 17th birthday may be brought into the juvenile justice system. Delinquency cases are not “criminal” matters, although they are based upon behavior that violates a criminal statute. The focus of the Family Court is rehabilitation and treatment.
Following a police investigation which results in the request for charges, a Juvenile Division Assistant Prosecuting Attorney will review all reports submitted by the police to determine whether probable cause exists to warrant court action and intervention. If so, the prosecutor authorizes a petition, officially charging the juvenile. The petition is then filed with the Circuit Court’s Family Division. This officially starts the court process.
The first court hearing following petition authorization and acceptance by the court is known as a preliminary inquiry. This hearing is the juvenile equivalent of an adult arraignment. The juvenile is read the charges and constitutional rights. If the juvenile is in court custody the matter of bond will also be addressed at this hearing.
At the preliminary hearing a Pre-Trial Conference will be scheduled. The hearing provides the prosecuting attorney an opportunity to discuss all options with the juvenile’s family or attorney. Many cases are resolved by way of a plea agreement at this hearing. If the case cannot be resolved it can be scheduled for a bench trial (before a judge or referee), or a jury trial (before a judge). Crime victims and the officer in charge of the case are encouraged to attend to allow the prosecutor to involve those individuals in case resolution.
If the juvenile enters a plea of responsible, or is subsequently found responsible following trial, the juvenile is deemed adjudicated. Once adjudicated the juvenile is a court ward, subject to court orders.
Following adjudication the matter is scheduled for disposition. A juvenile disposition is akin to an adult sentencing. A juvenile court probation officer will have been assigned prior to adjudication. The probation officer will conduct a background review of the juvenile, and determine recommendations for treatment, services, and further consequence. The probation officer will make those recommendations to the court at a dispositional hearing. The Judge or Referee decides the final terms of the disposition. The Judge has a wide variety of options when imposing the disposition. Those options include:
- Dismiss the juvenile as a court ward with a warning;
- Place the juvenile on a term of probation (usually one year) to be monitored by the assigned probation officer;
- Place the juvenile in foster care subject to the court’s jurisdiction;
- Order community service be performed by the juvenile;
- Order placement in a treatment or rehabilitation center for juvenile offenders;
- Order participation in a variety of programs including counseling, school programs, or after-school activities.
- Order the parents or guardians to participate in programs where appropriate, and refrain from conduct harmful to the juvenile.
- Order the juvenile and parents to pay any restitution to the victims of the delinquent behavior.
- Assess fine and court costs consistent with the fine indicated by the statute or ordinance violated.
Crime victims have an absolute right to attend dispositional hearings. Victims must be afforded the opportunity to address the court to explain physical, psychological or emotional harm suffered by the victim. The victim may also request compensation for any economic harm or property damage attributable to the juvenile’s behavior. The victim may also request the court impose certain terms of disposition.
The Michigan Department of Human Services (formerly the Family Independence Agency) is the agency charged with the responsibility for investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect. The Juvenile Division of the Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is the legal consultant to the DHS. This means that an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney will represent the DHS at all stages of a child protective proceeding.
A child abuse/neglect proceeding begins with the filing of a petition with the Circuit Court Family Division in the County where the abused or neglected child “is found”. A petition is a complaint or other written allegation that a parent, guardian, non-parent adult, or legal custodian has harmed or failed to properly care for a child. The purposes of a petition are to frame the issues for the court and to provide notice of the allegations to a respondent (usually a parent). Typically, a DHS Children’s Protective Services worker prepares and files a petition with the court. However, prosecutors, school officials, the Children’s Ombudsman of Michigan, guardians, custodians, and foster parents may file petitions.
If a petition is filed and requests placement of the child outside the parental/custodial home, the court must hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether to authorize the filing of the petition and continue the child’s placement outside of the home. The preliminary hearing must commence no later than 24 hours after the child has been taken into protective custody. In cases in which the child has been severely physically injured or sexually abused, the preliminary hearing must commence no later than 24 hours after the DHS submits a petition.
If the court authorizes the petition at the preliminary hearing, the matter will be scheduled for a pretrial before a judge or referee. At that pretrial the respondent will have the opportunity to admit to the allegations, or a portion of the allegations in the petition, or deny the validity of the allegations contained in the petition. If a respondent admits to the allegations contained in the petition, the child will be made a temporary court ward. If the respondent or respondents deny the allegations contained in the petition the matter will be scheduled for a bench trial before a judge or referee, or a jury trial before a judge.
If a respondent admits to the petition, or if a referee, judge or jury found after trial that the petitioner proved at least one of the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence, the child is made a temporary court ward. The matter must then proceed to an initial dispositional hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to determine what measures the court will take with respect to a child properly within its jurisdiction and, when applicable against any adult. Generally the court orders regarding a plan for reunification is based upon the recommendations of a DHS Foster Care Specialist. Prior to the dispositional hearing the Foster Care Specialist will have met with the respondents, conducted a family history, and drafted a parent agency agreement which lists all the services the DHS believes will assist the family in reunification.
Following the initial disposition the court will schedule periodic dispositional review hearings. The purpose of these review hearings is to monitor a respondent’s progress in complying with and completing the court ordered remedial measures. The respondent, respondent’s attorney, the Foster Care Specialist, an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Foster Parents, and any professional involved in the treatment plan may participate in a review hearing. Dispositional review hearings must be conducted every 90 days. The court may order additional reviews sooner than every 90 days if the court deems it necessary.
Permanency planning hearings are conducted to review the progress being made toward returning home a child in foster care, or to show why the child should not be made a permanent court ward. A court must hold a permanency planning hearing no later than one year after an original petition was filed. The permanency planning hearing is conducted in the same manner as the review hearing described above. However, at the conclusion of the permanency planning hearing the court must order the child returned home unless it determines that the return would cause a substantial risk of harm to the life, physical health, or the mental well-being of the child. If returned home, the child may be dismissed as a court ward, or may continue as a court ward to monitor the adjustment to the home environment. If the court determines at a permanency planning hearing that the child should not be returned home, it must order the DHS to initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights.
Upon the filing of a supplemental petition, the court will schedule a termination trial. If the child is already a court ward the respondent has no right to a jury trial. In certain cases of severe physical abuse, or sexual abuse the DHS may request termination of parental rights in an initial petition. Once a court finds by clear and convincing evidence after trial that a legal basis for termination exists, the court must terminate parental rights unless termination is clearly not in the best interest of the child. Parental rights to a child include the rights to custody, control, services, earnings, and inheritance. If all parental rights to a child are terminated, the child will be placed in the permanent custody of the court for purposes of placement and where appropriate, adoption. Termination of parental rights does not extinguish an obligation to pay child support.
Minors violating misdemeanor or felony laws before they turn 17 may be brought into the juvenile justice system. Delinquency cases are not “criminal”. The philosophy of the Family Court’s Juvenile Division is treatment and discipline for the delinquent youth, balanced against the safety needs of our community. Police, Prosecutors, Courts, and the schools must work together with the family and our community to meet this challenge.
Petition: After a police investigation, an assistant prosecutor reviews the reports and facts to decide whether court action is required. If so, the prosecutor issues a petition, listing the offense(s) with which the juvenile is charged. The petition is filed with the Circuit Court’s Family Division, which officially starts the court process.
Preliminary Inquiry: The first court hearing in a juvenile prosecution, similar to an adult
court arraignment. A prosecutor might not attend this hearing. The juvenile is informed of the charged
offenses, and his/her constitutional rights. The juvenile’s family can file for a court-appointed
attorney at this hearing.
The Family Court’s Juvenile Division can:
- warn the juvenile and dismiss the petition
- when appropriate in non-victim rights cases;
- refer the child for voluntary counseling;
- place the juvenile on informal probation (diversion or consent calendar) if the juvenile qualifies and it is appropriate because it serves the juvenile’s and the public’s best interests; or
- schedule further hearings on the court’s “formal docket”.
If the juvenile will admit responsibility for the offense(s), the court will schedule a “plea & disposition” hearing. The youth may be released to his/her parents’ care with terms or conditions, or may be held at the Youth Facility if release into the public would endanger the youth or the public.
Pre-Trial Conference: If the juvenile does not initially admit responsibility for the offense, a pretrial conference will be scheduled. A prosecuting attorney and the juvenile’s attorney meet regarding whether the juvenile will plead to the charged offense(s) or different offense(s), or if the case will go to trial. Crime victims are encouraged to attend pre-trial conferences so the prosecutor can discuss options for resolving the case.
Adjudication: A case may be adjudicated by a guilty plea or trial verdict that the juvenile committed an offense. In a jury or judge trial, the prosecution must prove the juvenile’s responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt. The juvenile is not required to prove his/her innocence.
Disposition: The disposition is similar to an adult court “sentencing”. A probation agent's report summarizes the youth’s background and need for services, and recommends terms of disposition. The judge considers this information and decides The final terms of the disposition. The judge has wide latitude, but must order services and programs appropriate for the welfare of the juvenile and society. Typical dispositions include probation, counseling, letter of apology to victim, community service, and restitution.
The judge can:
- warn the juvenile and/or parents and terminate the court’s jurisdiction;
- place the juvenile on in-home probation with parents, relatives or guardians;
- place the juvenile in foster care subject to the court’s jurisdiction;
- order community service by the juvenile;
- send the juvenile to a private or public institution or agency for the treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders;
- order health care for the juvenile;
- order participation in programs (e.g., counseling, school, drug or alcohol treatment);
- place the juvenile in a juvenile boot camp;
- Order the parents to participate in treatment and/or refrain from conduct harmful to the juvenile;
- order a period of probation with probation rules to follow;
- order the juvenile & parent(s) supervising the child at the time of the incident to pay full restitution to the victims of the delinquency behavior;
- order payment of a crime victim rights assessment fee, and reimbursement of court appointed attorney fees and other court service expenses.
Crime victims are encouraged to attend disposition hearings. Victims may deliver verbal or written impact statements. The statement may explain physical, psychological or emotional harm suffered by the victim; explain economic loss or property damage suffered; request restitution; and recommend appropriate terms of disposition.
In rare cases where a 14-16 year old juvenile is charged with a felony, the Family Court’s exclusive jurisdiction can be waived, and the juvenile can be treated or sentenced the same as an adult.
Automatic Waiver: A juvenile may be charged by a prosecutor with a specified juvenile violation on a complaint and warrant in District Court, rather than on a petition in Juvenile Court. If probable cause is found that the youth committed the offense(s), the case is bound over to Circuit Court for trial or entry of a plea. All "autowaiver” convictions must be sentenced in the same manner as an adult (except that assault with intent to rob while armed, bank or safe robbery, home invasion first degree, assault GBH or escape can result in juvenile probation as an Act 150 ward).
Traditional Waiver: If a juvenile is charged with any felony, the prosecutor may (within 14 days of filing the petition) request that the Family Court judge waive that court’s jurisdiction and let the case be handled in adult court. The Family Court judge must initially determine that probable cause exists that the juvenile committed the charged felony. Later, the judge must determine that the interests of the juvenile and the public would be served by granting the motion. (Factors include the seriousness of the offense in terms of community protection, the youth’s culpability in committing the offense, the youth’s delinquency record, the youth’s programming history, and the adequacy of punishment vs. rehabilitation programming available in the juvenile justice system.) In most “traditional waiver” cases, the youth has already exhausted the rehabilitation services available in the juvenile justice system. After waiver, the juvenile is tried in adult court. If convicted, he/she must be sentenced as an adult. A “juvenile sentence” is not allowed.
Designated Case: A delinquency case where the prosecuting attorney designates, or asks the court to designate the case for trial in Family Court in the same manner as an adult.
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