Indiana Juvenile Justice & Court Process

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Indiana Juvenile Laws

Indiana’s juvenile justice system is very different from adult criminal court. Indiana Code 31 outlines the state’s laws on juvenile justice. Children in Indiana aren’t convicted of crimes like adults and don’t face sentencing standards; each juvenile case is handled differently according to the alleged offense and the resources of each county.

Juveniles can be found delinquent if they commit an act that would be a criminal offense if committed by an adult or if they commit a status offense. Status offenses include the following:

  • Truancy
  • Curfew violations
  • Running away from home
  • Fireworks violations
  • Underage drinking or alcohol possession

Status offenses may be dealt with in the juvenile court process but are often handled through diversionary programs.

Not every case involving a minor is handled in juvenile court — in some situations, cases involving “heinous or aggravated acts” may be transferred to adult court.

How Does Indiana’s Juvenile Court Process Work?

Two significant differences separate Indiana’s juvenile law process from adult criminal court:

  1. Probation plays a significant role in the juvenile justice system. Probation may not be the outcome of each case, but judges weigh the probation department’s recommendations heavily. Probation may even offer juveniles the chance to complete behavior modification programming, allowing them to avoid having to appear in court.
  2. Bond is not available to juveniles in most cases, and the court may decide to detain a juvenile based on the offenses alleged and the safety considerations of the community. Probation will recommend whether a juvenile should be detained after an arrest.

What Happens After a Juvenile Arrest in Indiana?

The Indiana juvenile law system operates differently than the adult system. The state often aims to keep juveniles out of confinement and instead opts for educational programs, community service, and other diversionary outcomes.

Preliminary Inquiry and Initial Hearing

If the police arrest a juvenile, the minor is sent to a local juvenile detention facility, and their parents are notified. Then, the probation department will recommend to the judge whether the juvenile should be released or detained in the facility while the case is pending.

Violent offenses or juveniles with prior true findings of delinquency are more likely to be detained. If detained, the child’s trial date must be set within 20 days of their detention. After this part of the process, the rest of the juvenile court proceedings more closely resemble adult criminal court.


Following the preliminary inquiry, the case is set for pre-trial. Juries do not hear juvenile cases, but the prosecution must still prove each element of the alleged offense(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. A single judge will hear from the prosecution, probation department, and the juvenile’s attorney and then render a decision.

Under Indiana Code 31-32-2-2, juveniles have the right to counsel and may be represented by an attorney. In some circumstances, counsel for the child is appointed by the state, such as before any hearing in which the court “may find facts (or the child may admit to facts),” which could affect the delinquency proceedings.

Possible Outcomes of Adjudication

After the judge hears the case, they will decide whether the juvenile is delinquent. If the juvenile is found delinquent, they could face several penalties depending on the judge’s decision and the offense committed.

Juveniles may be sentenced to probation or ordered to complete community service, behavioral or drug and alcohol education classes, drug screenings, or diversionary programs overseen by the court.

In severe cases, the judge could also decide to commit a minor to the Juvenile Department of Corrections, where they could face an indeterminate sentence where their time in confinement is determined by how well they respond to treatment at the facility.

If the juvenile is sentenced to probation or ordered to complete an informal adjustment/diversion, they may also have to attend review hearings at least every six months until the judge closes the juvenile’s case.

Is Delinquency the Same as a Conviction?

A true finding in a delinquency case is equivalent to a guilty verdict in adult criminal court, but has different implications for the minor’s criminal record. Juvenile court records are more highly protected than an adult’s public criminal record. Many offenses handled in juvenile court are eligible to be expunged when the child turns 18.

Call Hessler Law Today for Help with Indiana Juvenile Law

A run-in with Indiana’s juvenile law system can be anxiety-inducing and overwhelming. Juveniles might believe that no one will listen to them or hear their side of the story. However, they should know that they are entitled to representation. An Indianapolis juvenile defense lawyer can be a strong advocate on behalf of a juvenile, making sure they have a voice in the process.

At Hessler Law, we’re committed to ensuring that juveniles facing delinquency proceedings in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas get the same due process an adult would expect in a courtroom and that juveniles’ rights and futures are protected. When we represent a juvenile, we look out for their  best interests and fight for the best possible outcome that allows the juvenile to move past youthful mistakes and build a productive life going into adulthood.

Call Sean Hessler with Hessler Law today at (317) 886-8800, or reach out online to schedule an initial consultation.