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While juvenile court utilizes many of the same proceedings as Adult Court, frequently those proceedings have different names.
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The Juvenile Division of the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office is responsible for enforcement of Nebraska’s Juvenile Code as it applies to the following occurrences within Lancaster County:
In Juvenile Court, cases are heard by a judge, not a jury. However, the same Rules of Evidence that apply in Adult Court apply in Juvenile Court. In cases where a juvenile is alleged to have committed a criminal offense or is alleged to be truant or uncontrollable, the prosecution must prove that the charge is true by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases where a child has been abused or neglected by a parent or when the child is a dependent child, the prosecution must prove that the charges are true by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the charge is more likely true than not true.
The main differences between Adult Court and Juvenile Court occur at the Sentencing or Disposition phase of the proceedings. In Juvenile Court, the Judge cannot sentence an individual to a term of incarceration or fine the individual a certain amount of money.
Possible penalties for juvenile offenses range from:
In abuse or neglect cases, the parent(s) is ordered to participate in a plan of services designed to correct the conditions of abuse or neglect.
After the police or sheriff determines that your child is responsible for a criminal offense, the case is then referred to the County Attorney’s Office for consideration of prosecution. If your child’s case is referred to the County Attorney’s office for prosecution, and the County Attorney reviews the citation or notification and determines there is sufficient evidence to believe that the juvenile has committed a crime, the County Attorney may file the case in juvenile court.
If that occurs, notice by U.S. mail would be sent or a summons would be issued and served upon the juvenile and parent(s) by the Sheriff's Office. That summons directs them to appear in Juvenile Court on a certain date. The summons would also include a copy of the Petition, which is the legal document containing the allegation of the offense(s) committed.
In certain cases, the juvenile may be eligible for a Diversion Program, which is operated through Lincoln/Lancaster County Human Services. Most misdemeanors and certain non-violent felony offenses are eligible for that program. In most cases, if a juvenile is eligible for Diversion, he/she will receive a letter requesting him/her to contact Lincoln/Lancaster County Human Services to set up an interview.
Juveniles do not have to hire an attorney to participate in the program. Through this Diversion Program, typical requirements of the juvenile include: perform community service work, participate in education classes, write apology letters, pay restitution, etc. Requirements depend on many different factors. The benefit to successfully completing the program is that you will not have to go through the court system for the incident. Find more information on the Juvenile Diversion page.
Restitution can be ordered in any case where the victim has suffered a monetary loss. If you are seeking restitution, it would be helpful to contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the crime and advise them of how much restitution is owed. You may also submit written estimates or documentation regarding the cost of repairs for your loss. After the judge has found the juvenile responsible for the offense, the judge will order the Juvenile Probation office to conduct a pre-disposition investigation.
During that investigation, the probation officer will gather information on restitution and may contact you. The County Attorney's Office cannot guarantee that the amount of restitution requested will be ordered by the court or paid by the juvenile. However, at the Disposition hearing, the Court may order the juvenile to pay restitution as part of the disposition. If you have not received full restitution from the juvenile, you may pursue the remedies available to you in small claims court or civil court.
It may be necessary to hold your property as potential evidence to be offered at trial. Once the proceedings have concluded, the property may be released to you. When the case has been resolved, contact the County Attorney or the Law Enforcement Agency holding your property. Arrangements can then be made to release your property to you.
If your child is currently on run, contact the Lincoln Police Department if you live in the city limits. Contact the Lancaster County Sheriff's office if you live outside the city limits. Those agencies will assist in locating your child. If your child is frequently on run or out of control, you may be able to request that an Ungovernable Petition be filed in Juvenile Court.
The Juvenile Code allows the County Attorney's Office to seek filing for any juvenile who, by reason of being wayward or habitually disobedient, is uncontrolled by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian; who deports himself or herself so as to injure or endanger seriously the morals or health of himself, herself, or others; or who is habitually truant from home or school. Nebraska Rev. Statute 43-247(3)(b). Ungovernable behavior can include, but is not limited to:
For more information and assistance on the process to determine whether an Ungovernable Petition should be filed, please contact Lincoln/Lancaster County Human Services at 402-441-4944. The Human Services staff can discuss available options with you and provide a form that allows you to provide us with background information on your child, and specific information on your child's ungovernable behavior. If an Ungovernable Petition is filed and the allegations are found to be true, the Juvenile Court Judge would have the authority to order the ungovernable child to follow rules, participate in treatment and therapy, or if needed, reside in an out of home placement or treatment facility.