The Juvenile Division of the Johnson County District Attorney’s Officer is responsible for receiving police reports involving juveniles 10 years of age through 17 years of age. In 2021, our office received more than 2,100 reports. The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office filed 1,112 Juvenile Offender (JO) cases. Of the cases filed, 263 were felony charges. Additionally, 306 juvenile offenses were resolved via a non-court intervention known as an Immediate Intervention Program (IIP). Another 248 were granted a “diversion” and not found guilty of any crime and therefore were able to avoid an adjudication. The most common crimes committed by juveniles in 2021 were battery, possession of marijuana, and misdemeanor theft (theft of property with a value less than $1,500.00).
In 2016, SB 367 became as Juvenile Justice Reform of 2016 sought to reduce the number of low level offenders entering into the juvenile justice system and offer non-court programs for low level offenders. The reform also sought to modify the system of probation and sanctions for those who violate probation. The bill also sought to minimize and phase out group home placements for juvenile offenders in favor of community based sanctions and services. Included in the reform was a proposed funding mechanism for creating such local services in smaller communities. One of the chief goals of this reform was a reduced reliance on secure detention as a penalty or sanction for juvenile offenders.
Once a report reaches our office, we consider whether to file charges. Sufficiency of evidence and the need for court intervention are the two main considerations in this decision. Our office has several options: no charges, a warning letter, a youth court referral, Diversion, or a court filing.
If the matter is filed with the court, notice is given to the juvenile and his or her family. The court will appoint an attorney to represent the juvenile although the family is free to retain private counsel. Families are responsible for the cost of an appointed attorney at the rate of $65 an hour. If parents or guardians are deemed indigent, the court may remit fees in part or in whole.
Once filed, the juvenile (called a "Respondent" in court) may request Diversion or answer to the charge. Diversion is a program for low-level first time offenders. It is an agreement between the Respondent and the court to follow a Diversion education program. If the program is completed, the case is dismissed without a finding of guilt. If Diversion is not requested or approved, the Respondent must answer the charges. Upon a plea of guilty to the charge, the court will adjudicate (or judge) the Respondent to be a juvenile offender. If the Respondent pleads not guilty, the matter is set for trial.
At trial, the District Attorney’s Office bears the burden of proof: beyond a reasonable doubt. The Respondent benefits from almost all the same rights an adult criminal defendant would have, including the right to a trial by jury. If the Respondent is adjudicated by plea or trial, the judge has the power to make sentencing orders. The judge is authorized to order the Respondent on probation, in treatment, pay a fine and/or be placed in a facility.