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What Are Juvenile Status Offenses?

Nov. 25, 2018

Juvenile courts in Illinois often handle what are known as “status offenses.” These are activities deemed unlawful because of an offender’s age, such as possession or consumption of alcohol, truancy and curfew violations.

Criminalizing certain behaviors for juveniles is based on the idea that these activities are harmful for the juvenile, and the state should protect them from these behaviors. Laws regarding juvenile status offenses exist in all 50 states.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the juvenile criminal justice system underwent de-institutionalization. Status offenses became more frequently diverted to outside agencies from the court system because lawmakers believed that the low level of criminality of juvenile status offenses meant that families and community agencies were better able to handle these behaviors than the court system.

Curfew laws in many U.S. cities require juveniles to be off the streets by a certain time. If a juvenile is found outside without a parent past a certain time, the juvenile may be taken into custody until a parent or guardian can pick them up.

Truancy laws are designed to punish juveniles for missing too much school. Some states allow parents to be punished with fines or jail time if their children accumulate too many unexcused absences from school.

An attorney experienced in juvenile criminal defense may be able to help families who have been summoned to court based on a status offense. In some cases, it may be possible to request a court to dismiss a case if there is a reasonable explanation for the juvenile’s behavior. For example, if a juvenile missed too much school due to an illness, it may be possible to present testimony from the child’s medical providers to the court and request a dismissal.

Juvenile criminal defense differs in many ways from the criminal justice system in adult court. Juvenile court is primarily designed to help offenders rather than to punish them.