Juvenile Court - Before Court: What Happens?

This page was created to help you understand what occurs prior to a juveniles arrival in court. For example, some cases never reach trial - this page will explain to you why and how a case may be settled nonjudicially. Click on one of the links in the page menu below to jump right to the topic that interests you, or scroll down as we walk you through the process.

Lock-Up: How does a juvenile end up in D.T. (Detention)?

A juvenile may be taken to D.T. if:

  1. They commit a "holdable" offense, like:
    • Distributing a controlled substance
    • Possessing a dangerous weapon
    • Breaking into a home
  2. They have a prior, serious, criminal history
  3. They have run away from court-ordered placement
  4. They have failed to appear at a court hearing. If they have been placed in a detention center, their parents will be notified immediately. With the exception of weekends and holidays, a juvenile cannot be held for longer than 48 hours without a court hearing which will decide where they should be placed afterwards.

Read Utah Rule of Juvenile Procedure 8 about the rights of a minor while in detention.


Who are the People in Juvenile Court?

  1. Judge: The judge hears cases and decides questions of law in court. Click here to read an interview with Juvenile Court Judge Andrew Valdez, of Salt Lake City!
  2. State's Attorney: Usually the District Attorney (the "D.A." or "Prosecutor") is the one accusing the juvenile.
  3. Defense Attorney. The juvenile's best friend. This person's job is to ask for what the juvenile wants. For example, he or she may help the juvenile get out of DT, or avoid having to pay a fine.
  4. The Guardian ad Litem (sometimes): When a child has been abused or neglected, sometimes the child has a guardian ad litem (GAL). The GAL asks for what is "in the child's best interest, for example, staying with grandma instead of mom.
  5. Court Worker (Probation Officer) or Social Worker (DCFS): This person is responsible for a juvenile's case, to make sure the juvenile gets the treatment they need, and to make sure they fulfill their community service hours or other court orders.
  6. Clerks: Sit in court and record everything that people say.
  7. Bailiffs: These are usually county sheriff deputies. A juvenile could get in trouble with the baliff if they are rude to the judge.


Preparing for Court: The "Preliminary Inquiry"

If a juvenile receives a referral or citation to appear in juvenile court, s/he may be asked to participate in a voluntary preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry is a meeting between the juvenile, the parent(s) or guardian, a court intake worker, and a lawyer if desired. The idea of a preliminary inquiry is for the juvenile's court worker to decide whether or not the juvenile has to go before a judge, or whether the charge(s) can be taken care of informally.

The worker will:

    The worker will also look at:

    • Explain the court process to the juvenile
    • Explain the juvenile's rights
    • Explain the charges filed against the juvenile
    • Ask the juvenile about school, family, friends, and outside activities
    • How serious the offense is
    • The juvenile's court record
    • The age of the juvenile


    What Can the Juvenile Expect?

    A juvenile may be nervous about or not know what to expect during the preliminary inquiry. To get a feel for what will take place, here are some sample topics and questions that the intake officer may ask the juvenile or the parents about:

    • Family Profile: This includes questions about the juvenile's siblings, parents, and their family relationships.
    • School: The intake officer may ask the juvenile where s/he attends school, what programs s/he is involved in and his/her relationships with teachers, counselors and fellow students.
    • Goals and Aspirations: The juvenile may be asked about future plans for school and work.
    • Peers: This topic may cover questions such as how many close friends the juvenile has as well as activities his/her friends are involved in (Examples: Use of tobacco and/or alcohol).
    • Parental Questions: The intake officer may also ask the parents questions about their behavior, past illnesses or accidents.


    Where do we go from here?

    Case Closed

    Going to Court

    After evaluating the facts, the worker may decide that the juvenile can take care of the case without seeing the judge. The juvenile, the court case worker, and the parent will agree on the terms of the case. As long as the juvenile follows through on the agreement, s/he will not have to go before a judge.

    In order to close the case like this, the juvenile may have to comply with a "Non-Judicial Agreement" which may include elements such as those described below.

    When the juvenile follows through with the agreement, the case will be closed. If the juvenile fails to follow through, s/he will be called back to court to see the judge in an arraignment. (See Step Three)

    After evaluating the facts, the intake officer may decide that the juvenile should appear before a judge. The juvenile may also have to see the judge if:

    • A class A misdemeanor or a felony has been committed OR
    • If they deny the charges

    If the juvenile is going to court, click here to learn more about the next step in the process, the arraignment.


    What is a Non-Judicial Agreement?

    It is a written agreement between the juvenile, the intake officer and the parent(s). Once the juvenile completes the requirements of the agreement, no petition will be filed with the court. So what could a juvenile face if s/he signs a non-judicial agreement?

    • Paying a fine (not more than $100 per offense).
    • Paying the victim back for any damage caused him or her ("restitution").
    • Community service hours
    • Counseling
    • Drug or alcohol treatment
    • House arrest or probation
    • Other reasonable actions in the interest of the minor/community

    Read Utah Rule of Juvenile Procedure 15 about informal adjustments without petition.

    Quick Facts: 37% delinquency and dependency cases filed with Juvenile Court are closed by voluntary agreement (without going before the judge).