Rich King Attorney & Counselor at Law 335 West 50 North, Suite E19 Vernal, Utah 84078 Phone: +1 (435) 789-5433
Rich KingAttorney & Counselor at Law335 West 50 North, Suite E19Vernal, Utah 84078Phone: +1 (435) 789-5433
Rich King | Vernal, Utah Juvenile Attorney Rich King | Juvenile Lawyer

Rich King

Attorney & Counselor at Law

Windsor Building East

335 West 50 North, Suite E19

Vernal, Utah 84078


Phone: +1 (435) 789-5433

Utah Juvenile Court: A Guide for Parents of Children Accused of Crimes in Utah


Entering the Juvenile Justice System


Parents are often lost when their child is charged with a crime in a Utah juvenile court because the process is shrouded in secrecy. You should immediately retain an attorney if your child is charged with a crime in Utah. In the meantime, this short guide provides parents with a basic overview of the Utah juvenile justice process so that parents can make informed decisions that are in the best interests of their children.


Utah juvenile courts have jurisdiction of people under the age of 21 for crimes committed under the age of 18. Your child enters the system when a law enforcement officer files a citation or police report with the juvenile court.

Although an officer can take your child into custody, in many cases children are not taken to a juvenile detention center (jail for juveniles). Instead, a child is allowed to return home, and the officer presents a citation to the juvenile court.


If the officer cannot locate a parent, the officer can take your child to a "youth service center" or "youth receiving center" where your child is kept until a parent can be reached. In Utah's Eighth District, the youth service center is at Split Mountain Youth Center, which is located in Vernal, Utah. If the officer does not allow your child to return home, the officer arrests your child and takes your child to a detention center. In the Eighth District, the juvenile detention center is Split Mountain Youth Center.


The juvenile court must then hold a detention hearing within two working days of the arrest. At the detention hearing, the judge must order your child released unless the judge determines that your child is a "flight risk" or is a threat to others. Bail is not available to juveniles. If your child is already in custody, a case manager from Juvenile Justice Services will be assigned to the case, which will proceed to arraignment or a preliminary hearing.


Nonjudical Closure


After a police officer has filed a citation with the juvenile court, a court probation officer will determine whether the juvenile court has jurisdiction. The probation officer often consults with the county attorney’‘s office regarding the case and charges. 


The juvenile court will then request that your child and at least one parent come to the court to meet with a probation officer. The parents and child are not required to meet with the probation officer. If they do not meet with the probation officer, a petition will most likely be filed with the juvenile court accusing the child of criminal wrongdoing. 


If parents and child decide to meet with the probation officer, then they have the right to have an attorney represent them at the meeting. At the initial meeting, the probation officer will gather information about your child, including grades and home environment. The probation officer will discuss the case, and your child may admit to wrongdoing at this time. If both child and parents admit to the allegations against your child, then the probation officer can reach a nonjudicial closure. A nonjudicial closure might require your child to be confined to detention, pay a fine, attend a class, or perform community service.


The probation officer is an important part of the juvenile justice system. Parents should retain an attorney to speak with the probation officer regarding possible nonjudicial closure or a possible dispositional recommendation.




If your child denies the allegations in a citation or police report, the probation officer will usually file a petition with the juvenile court and the parents will be served with a summons to attend an arraignment. If you are served with a summons, then you should retain an attorney to represent your child at the arraignment.


At the arraignment, your child will either admit or deny the allegations of the petition. If your child admits the charges, then the court will proceed with disposition (sentencing). In some cases, the court may postpone disposition until probation can complete a predisposition report that recommends a disposition.


However, as soon as your child admits charges, the court can issue its disposition, including home placement, fines, and probation. In more severe cases, the court can order commitment of the child to detention at a youth center (jail for juveniles), community placement minimum security prison for juveniles), or secure detention (prison for juveniles).


Pretrial Proceedings and Trial 


If your child denies the charges at arraignment, the court will usually schedule a pretrial conference. At the pretrial conference, your child, parents, and your child’s attorney can discuss a possible plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. The prosecutor may agree to reduce or dismiss charges, or offer a plea in abeyance or diversion agreement.


The plea in abeyance involves an admission of guilt by your child followed by a period of good behavior, payment of fines, or community service (similar to unsupervised probation in adult court). Once the plea in abeyance period is completed, the court will dismiss the case and your child will have no record of an adjudication of guilt.


A diversion agreement freezes the case for a period of time, during which your child can be required to refrain from violating the law, pay fines, or perform community service. 


If the prosecutor will not agree to an acceptable plea bargain, then the case proceeds to trial. Although the proceedings are similar to those in a criminal trial in adult court, your child is not entitled to a jury. If the court does not find that the prosecutor has proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will dismiss the case. If the court finds that the prosecutor has proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, then the court can make a disposition immediately upon completion of the trial, or the court can ask a probation officer to make a dispositional recommendation before making a final disposition.


In more serious cases, the child is processed in Utah's adult criminal justice system.


Trying Children as Adults 


Utah’s criminal justice system, which provides for trial of children as adults, is notoriously harsh on children between fourteen and eighteen years of age. In Utah, a child under the age of eighteen does not have the legal status of an adult. A child under eighteen generally cannot enter into a contract, vote, serve in the military, smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, marry, get an abortion, or otherwise act as an adult. Perversely, however, Utah does provide that a child is mature enough to be tried and punished as an adult for some crimes. 


The impact of trying a child as an adult has severe consequences. Children transferred to the district court for trial as adults are dealt with more harshly than those tried in juvenile court, and are often permanently branded as criminals. 


Utah has taken the position that children charged as adults are to be kept in the county jail with adult inmates while awaiting trial, rather than in a juvenile facility. If the child is convicted and sentenced to prison, the child will experience more physical and sexual assault, and will have negative psychological and social experiences duriing formative years.


The child will also be stigmatized once released from custody, and will have difficulty finding a job. Thus, the child will be more of a threat to society than would be the case if the child were kept in the juvenile justice system. Until Utah becomes more enlightened and realistic, however, a parent must turn to a defense attorney to fight for the child’s future. 


Under Utah law, there are three procedures for charging children as adults: 1) direct file charges; 2) serious youth offender charges; and 3) certification of the case to district court.


Direct File Charges 


If the State of Utah charges children sixteen and older with murder or aggravated murder, or charges a child over sixteen with a felony committed after the child has been in a secure juvenile facility, then the State must file the charge directly in district court and the court tries the child as an adult. The juvenile court has no jurisdiction over such charges. 


Serious Youth Offender Act Charges 


Under Utah’s notorious Serious Youth Offender Act, a child sixteen to eighteen years of age must go through the serious youth offender process if the child is charged with any of the felonies listed in the Serious Youth Offender Act. Felonies listed in the serious youth offender act include offenses involving dangerous weapons and aggravated felonies such as aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. 


Although a charge under the Serious Youth Offender Act is initiated when the prosecution files an information in juvenile court, the process is geared to transfer the child to the district court to be tried as an adult. After the State files an information, the child makes an initial appearance in juvenile court, and judge reads the charge and, if the child is indigent, appoints an attorney to represent the child. The child does not enter a plea at the initial appearance. The juvenile court then schedules a preliminary hearing, which must be held within ten days of the initial appearance if the child is in custody, or thirty days if the child is not in custody.


The preliminary hearing proceeding is geared toward transferring the child to district court for trial as an adult. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution is only required to prove that there is “probable cause” that a crime has been committed, and that the child committed the crime. Contrary to popular belief, probable cause at a juvenile preliminary hearing involves a low standard of proof, and the prosecution can use hearsay to show probable cause. 


In order to avoid transfer of the case to district court for trial as an adult, the child must then prove, by the stringent standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” that three mitigating circumstances apply: 1) the child has no previous felony offense involving a dangerous weapon; 2) the child is less culpable than any co-defendants; and 3) the child’s role in the offense was not violent, aggressive, or premeditated. A child will rarely be able to prove the third circumstance, because most aggravated offenses are, by nature, violent, aggressive, or premeditated. 


Therefore, even thought the child is supposedly presumed innocent, a charge under the Serious Youth Offender Act will likely result in an order by the juvenile court that the child is to be bound over for trial as an adult in the district court. 

If the juvenile court decides that the child is to be bound over for trial in the district court as an adult, the juvenile judge issues a warrant of arrest and sets initial bail. The child is then taken to the county jail and the case proceeds as if the child is an adult in the district court. 


Certification to the District Court 


If a child between the ages of fourteen and eighteen is charged with any offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult, the prosecution can seek to have the child certified to stand trial in district court. The prosecution starts the certification process by filing an information in juvenile court and a motion to certify the case to the district court for trial. 


The juvenile court will then hold a hearing within thirty days, where the prosecution is required to prove probable cause that a crime was committed, and that the child committed the crime. If the prosecutor meets that burden he must then prove, by “a preponderance of the evidence,” that it would be contrary to the interests of the child or society for the juvenile court to retain jurisdiction over the case. 


Required to apply “objective” standards, the juvenile judge must then make findings regarding specific “objective” statutory factors in deciding whether to retain jurisdiction over the case or to transfer it to district court for an adult trial. As a practical matter, however, the juvenile judge subjectively decides whether the child should be kept in the juvenile justice system, or should instead be certified to the district court.


If the case is certified to district court, the case will then proceed through the adult criminal justice system.



Rich King

Attorney & Counselor at Law

Windsor Building East

335 West 50 North, Suite E19

Vernal, Utah 84078


Phone: +1 (435) 789-5433

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© 2017 Rich King | Vernal, Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer. Resources and advertising material.


Rich King

Attorney & Counselor at Law

Windsor Building East

335 West 50 North, Suite E19
Vernal, Utah 84078


Phone: +1 (435) 789-5433