How Does the Louisiana Juvenile Court Work?
Louisiana Juvenile Courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over proceedings against children, including delinquency actions involving individuals below the age of 21 who commit delinquent offenses before reaching the age of 17. Louisiana law defines a juvenile as a child between the age of 10 and 17.
Juvenile Courts in the state share jurisdiction with a family court over certain child support cases and some criminal cases related to desertion, non-support, or neglect of a minor. Some exceptions to the Juvenile Courts’ exclusive jurisdiction include cases where juveniles who have attained the age of 15 are charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, aggravated rape, or aggravated kidnapping. In such cases, jurisdiction is moved to the appropriate court exercising criminal jurisdiction over the offenses charged.
Louisiana Juvenile Courts have original jurisdiction over all adoption proceedings involving unemancipated children under the age of 17. In places where no Juvenile Court exists, the district, parish, or city courts exercise jurisdiction over juvenile matters. There are four Juvenile Courts in Louisiana:
- Caddo Parish Juvenile Court
- East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court
- Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court
- Orleans Parish Juvenile Court
Louisiana ensures that juveniles are properly represented in court proceedings by providing counsel to indigent youth at the judicial district level. The state presumes all youth to be indigent, hence either appoints the youth a counsel or refers the youth for representation by the district public defender. The Louisiana Public Defender Board appoints a Deputy Public Defender who also functions as the Director of Juvenile Defender Services. To ensure that juveniles are appropriately cared for, during and after court proceedings, the Director of Juvenile Defender Services is tasked with:
- Assisting the state public defender in collaborating with criminal justice stakeholders, such as judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, probation officers, and law enforcement officers to promote sound juvenile justice policies in relation to fair adjudication processes, and treatment of youth charged in delinquency actions that focus on rehabilitation of the offender;
- Promoting positive change in educational opportunities and mental health services and other treatment services for youth in the court system;
- Ensuring that board policies and public announcements properly recognize that youth do not possess the same cognitive, emotional, decision-making, or behavioral capacitates as adults and require special attention be given to juveniles’ representation.
Although Louisiana presumes children indigent and is required to appoint a counsel for them at court proceedings, a parent may be required to pay for part or all of a counsel service for their wards accused of delinquent acts, unless the parents are indigent. The court will decide on indigency through a hearing which may take place at any stage of court proceedings. During the proceedings, the judge will consider any property owned, outstanding obligations, the number and age of dependents, and any income of the parent, in deciding on indigency.
A Louisiana juvenile may waive the right to counsel if:
- So desired after consultation with an attorney, parent, or caretaker;
- The court has informed the child and the adult consulting with the child on the child’s right and the possible consequence of waiver; and
- The child is competent and is voluntarily waiving the right to counsel.
However, Louisiana law does not permit juveniles to waive their right if:
- The court has been advised that the juvenile be placed in a mental, psychiatric, or substance-abuse facility;
- The juvenile has been charged with a felony-grade delinquent act; or
- The juvenile is involved in probation or parole revocation proceedings.
Juvenile Courts in Louisiana also handle cases involving Child in Need of Care (CINC), Families in Need of Services (FINS), and voluntary transfer of custody. CINC cases begin when the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) receives a report that a child is neglected, abused, or is endangered due to the parents’ conviction of a crime against the child.
Upon investigation, if the DCFS determines that the child’s safety and well-being can only be guaranteed by swiftly removing the child from home, the DCFS will request an emergency order from the judge to remove the child. If the judge grants the order, the child’s parents will be required to appear before the Juvenile Court at a scheduled date for a continued custody hearing, where the court decides if the child should remain in the DFCS’ custody.
If the court decides the child will be better off remaining with the DFCS, the District Attorney’s Office files a written document alleging that the child needs care. At a later appearance hearing, the Juvenile Court requires the presence of the parents to admit or deny the allegations. If the parents do not admit to the allegations during an adjudication hearing, the judge will then determine whether the allegations are true. The judge’s disposition includes supervision, therapy, rehabilitation, or other services that the family needs as part of their case plan.
Subsequently, regular hearings are held where the judge checks on the progress of the case plan and the child’s placement. Ultimately, the case may be closed or dismissed, with the child returned to the family or the parent’s rights terminated. If rights are terminated, the child becomes free for adoption.
Juvenile delinquency proceedings begin when a juvenile is accused of a delinquent act that would be charged as a criminal offense as if an adult. If the juvenile has been detained, a detention hearing will be held. In the detention hearing, the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to believe the child participated in the crime, the child will remain in detention, and a bond will be set. If the district attorney files a petition, the child will be required to be present at an appearance hearing where formal charges will be read and an attorney appointed for the child.
If the child denies the allegations, a trial will hold where the district attorney must prove that the child committed the acts. If the judge determines that the child committed the acts, then a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. At this hearing, the judge decides what kind of placement, treatment, supervision, and rehabilitation the child needs. These may include community service, restitution, or probation.
Although they could begin in various ways, Family in Need of Services (FINS) cases follow a similar process to delinquency proceedings. Typically, FINS cases involve court supervision of a juvenile who has been truant (not attending school), ungovernable or has absconded from home. FINS matters also include cases where the child’s parent or guardian has caused the child’s misconduct or has failed to send the child to school.
There are 14 judges in the four Juvenile Courts in Louisiana. These judges are elected to six-year terms, except in the Orleans Parish, where the judges are elected to eight-year terms. To serve as a judge in Louisiana Juvenile Courts, an individual must be a parish resident for one year, have a minimum eight-year experience of practicing law in the state and a law degree, and younger than 70 years.
Louisiana Juvenile Court records are not made available for public examination. For more information on obtaining juvenile records, contact the location of the Juvenile Courts:
Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court
1546 Gretna Boulevard
Harvey, LA 70058
Phone: (504) 227–7816
East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court
8333 Veterans Memorial Boulevard
Baton Rouge, LA 70807
Phone: (225) 354–1250
Fax: (225) 357–7876