Teenagers occupy a unique place in our legal system. They are not yet adults, but they can face many of the same serious consequences as adults. At the same time, they enjoy certain protections that are not afforded adults. In an attempt to strike this tender balance, we have constructed somewhat of a parallel justice system for youthful offenders, complete with its own set of special procedures and even its own courts.
Oklahoma Juvenile Charges
There are three ways in which a minor can be charged with a crime in Oklahoma: as a juvenile delinquent, as a youthful offender, or as an adult. Being charged as a juvenile delinquent carries the least severe range of punishment while being charged as an adult carries the most severe.
Being adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent, the lowest classification of juvenile charges does not technically result in a criminal conviction. It's a bit of an anomaly in our criminal justice system, and it is typically reserved for juveniles aged 15 or younger or for those charged with very minor misdemeanors. The minor's record is sealed when they turn 18, leaving them with no criminal record as they enter adulthood. While this may sound lenient, it's important to note that juvenile delinquents can be detained by the Office of Juvenile Affairs until their 18th birthday.
In an attempt to provide harsher punishment for more serious juvenile crimes without charging the minors as adults, Oklahoma created the "youthful offender" classification. Youthful offenders are typically aged between 15 and 17. Unlike juvenile delinquency, youthful offenders end up with a criminal conviction. Additionally, they are not automatically released at the age of 18. If a youthful offender's sentence hasn't been completed when the juvenile turns 18, they may be transferred to adult prison. There are some exceptions to this general rule: (1) Juveniles that enter the system nearing adulthood may be kept in juvenile detention centers until the age of 20; and (2) Juveniles who do not comply with rehabilitation efforts may be sent to the adult prison system early.
Juveniles Charged as Adults
Juveniles are only charged as adults under the most extreme circumstances in Oklahoma. The most common example is if the minor is charged with murder in the first degree. Teenagers aged 15 through 17 will be charged as an adult in first-degree murder cases, but it is possible for 13 or 14 year-olds charged with first-degree murder to be certified as youthful offenders. That can only be done if the juvenile's attorney files a motion early on during the case.
It's important to note that once a juvenile is certified as an adult or as a youthful offender, they keep that designation until they turn 18. If a juvenile that has previously been certified as a youthful offender is later charged with first-degree murder, he or she cannot be tried as an adult.
Juvenile Charges in Cleveland County
When a juvenile is taken into custody on suspicion of a criminal offense, they are often cited and released into the custody of their parents. However, in more serious cases or circumstances in which it is not safe to return the child home, the juvenile may be held in a juvenile detention center or juvenile intervention services.
A juvenile charged with a crime in Cleveland County could have their case prosecuted by a few different offices. To begin with, if the case is a serious felony, the juvenile could be charged as an adult and prosecuted like an adult. For misdemeanors, the prosecutor will depend on where the juvenile was arrested. Cleveland County falls within the 21st Judicial District, so the 21st District Prosecutor handles many of these cases. However, some misdemeanors that occurred within Norman city limits are handled by the city.
21st Judicial District Prosecutor
The 21st Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney's Office has three dedicated attorneys assigned to the juvenile division. They handle abuse and neglect cases in addition to prosecuting cases against juveniles. The prosecutor's office handles both misdemeanor and felony cases. The juvenile division's stated goal is to “coordinate with other state and community agencies to provide children and families with the necessary services to promote family accountability, rehabilitation, and healthy child development.” The prosecutor's office is located at 201 S. Jones Suite 300 in Norman, Oklahoma.
City of Norman
Juvenile crimes are typically heard in district court. However, since 1992, Oklahoma law has empowered municipal courts to take over jurisdiction of certain juvenile cases. The case must involve children under the age of 18 charged with municipal ordinance violations. This does not include traffic tickets. Juveniles charged with qualifying ordinance violations will be entered in the Juvenile Offender Program.
Under the Juvenile Offender Program, a juvenile charged with a violation has five days to appear before the city attorney and set up a conference to discuss the case with them. At the same time, the juvenile must also schedule a court date to appear before the municipal judge. The Juvenile Offender Program has a First Offenders Program, a diversionary process that results in the juvenile avoiding a criminal conviction on their record if they meet certain criteria. The court can require juveniles to pay fines, perform community service, and write letters of apology. Some of the most common violations and their corresponding fines are:
|Violation||1st Offense||2nd Offense|
Juvenile Intervention Services
Oklahoma law allows some third-party facilities to hold and care for non-violent juveniles. This can include the time before their trial or as a part of their treatment after a plea bargain. These facilities are intended to be less harsh than juvenile detention centers. Crossroads Youth and Family Services frequently works with the courts regarding juvenile offenders in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.
The facility focuses on juveniles charged with status offenses, misdemeanor delinquent offenses, and even non-violent felonies. The facility focuses on treatment and rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. Crossroads Youth and Family Services is located at 1333 West Main Street, Norman, Oklahoma 73069.
Juvenile Detention Center
Juveniles convicted of more serious crimes, including felonies, may be detained in a juvenile detention center. These centers are designed for shorter stays. They hold both youthful offenders that are considered dangerous as well as juveniles awaiting their day in court. The juvenile detention center for Cleveland County is called Cleveland County Juvenile Services. It is located at 1650 West Tecumseh Road #300, Norman, Oklahoma 73069.