A pair of aeading glasses resting on a book

Adjudication is similar to a criminal trial for adults.  In an adult trial, the judge or jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.  In adjudication, the judge or jury will decide whether you are delinquent or not delinquent.  At the adjudication, a prosecutor, also known as the District Attorney (DA) will try to prove that you committed the offense you are charged with.  Any victim of the offense also has a right to testify; that is, to tell their story in court.  But you should know that the prosecutor represents the state, not the victims, so the victims do not tell the DA what to do.

You can request a jury, but most adjudication occurs in front of a judge or a master.  A master is similar to a judge but with limited authority though they carry out many of the same tasks that a judge would do during adjudication.  The only difference is that, at the end of adjudication, a judge must approve recommendations of the master before they are final.

During adjudication, the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed an act of delinquency.  The presumption of innocence means that you come into court with a blank slate. The DA must start from the beginning and present evidence that proves you committed the offense.  The fact that you are accused of something, or that the police have investigated you does not prove you are guilty.  If the DA does not have enough evidence to prove that you committed the crime, you do not have to present any evidence at all.  Of course, you also have the right to present evidence that supports your defense.  In most cases, you will present evidence in your own defense.

In addition to the rights you have in pre-adjudication, you have the right to confront the witnesses against you.  This means that everyone who has something to say about you or your case must testify under oath in open court.  You have a right to ask those witnesses questions that may show they are mistaken or untruthful in their testimony.  This is called cross-examination.  If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will cross-examine the witnesses who testify against you.

You also have the right to testify on your own behalf or not to testify.  You can tell your story if you choose.  Or you can remain silent and not incriminate yourself if you choose.  The fact that you choose not to testify cannot be held against you.  In other words, your silence is not evidence that you are guilty.  You should talk to your lawyer about what might happen if you testify or don’t testify.  Your lawyer can give you advice about what you should do, but your lawyer cannot make the decision for you.  It is your decision alone.

Unless the court orders otherwise, the following people have a right to attend your adjudication hearing: DJJ representatives, your parents or guardians, your guardian ad litem, if you have one, and the victims of the alleged offense.  The rules on whether the hearing is open to the public are complicated.  Generally, juvenile delinquency proceedings are closed to the public, but either you or the DA can ask the court to open the hearing.  The judge will decide whether to allow this.  If you have any questions about who can attend your hearings, you should ask your lawyer or the judge.