Common Misconceptions About the Juvenile Process in Montana

Have you heard (or believed) any of these?

  • “When children get arrested, the System will protect them because they are minors.”
  • “We don’t have anything to worry about, she’s a juvenile, and that all goes away when she turns 18.”
  • “Once he turns 18, he will be finished with his sentence and get a clean slate.”

These are some common myths about juvenile cases that we often hear at our law office in Montana. However, the truth is that a criminal conviction entered against someone as a child could land them in prison, facing adult time. Just because children are minors doesn’t mean criminal charges won’t continue to affect them long into their adult life.

If your son or daughter has been charged with a crime in Montana, you need an experienced juvenile defense attorney by your side. Call us at (406) 721-3354 to get the legal representation your child needs.

What you need to know about the juvenile process


The Youth Court

In Montana, under the Youth Court Act, cases involving criminal allegations can be heard in Youth Court when the youth is alleged to have committed a crime before turning 18. The court’s jurisdiction can even extend into the youth’s early 20s if the crime is alleged to have occurred before they turned 18.

Some cases involving minor charges, such as misdemeanor crimes, traffic charges, and fish and game violations, are typically handled through an informal proceeding. Your child may never even need to go in front of a judge. The case would be handled through the Youth Court Probation Officer, involving you as a parent.

“Can a minor charge evolve into something more serious?”

Common resolutions for informal proceedings include a warning, probation, community service, counseling, and/or restitution. However, these cases can escalate, and your child could end up in District Court facing a District Court Judge if he/she fails to meet the terms set out in their Informal Proceeding Resolution.

These formal proceedings can lead to much more significant resolutions, including incarceration in a juvenile facility. If you’re lucky enough to have an informal proceeding, it’s important to do whatever you can to keep it in the informal setting. You and your child have the legal right to be represented, even at the informal stage, by a skilled attorney. At Judnich Law Office, we are ready to help!

The District Court

The other much more serious way your child could end up in front of a District Court Judge is through a piece of law called the Extended Jurisdiction Prosecution Act (EJPA). This act allows a prosecuting attorney to petition the District Court to transfer a case to the District Court for a formal proceeding. This formal proceeding allows the Court to process the case as it would an adult case.

All charges that would be considered a felony are automatically transferred to the District Court. Additionally, cases involving a child over the age of 14 can be transferred to the District Court if the county attorney petitions the court for transfer. Serious felonies, such as sexual intercourse with a minor, robbery, or dangerous drug distribution (to name a few), can be automatically transferred to District Court. These cases can result in sentences that could severely impact a child’s life. They can include supervision into adulthood and potentially require lifetime registration.

“Could my son/daughter go to prison?”

Beyond the seriousness of a juvenile sentence ordered under the EJPA, the sentence can include provisions that allow for the conviction to be converted to an adult sentence, including a permanent criminal record and adult jail time.

Get the legal representation your family needs

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If this article has scared you, it’s time to take action. Don’t despair, your child has a right to be represented by an attorney through all stages of the process. Hiring a skilled, knowledgeable juvenile defense attorney is the best you can do to protect your child’s rights and future.

At Judnich Law Office, our experienced juvenile defense attorneys are familiar with this process and understand all the possibilities to mitigate the future consequences your child will experience. If your child is facing charges whether in Youth Court or District Court, we can help ensure he/she is protected through the entire process.

Call us at (406) 721-3354 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with a juvenile defense attorney at any of our two offices in Missoula and Bozeman.