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Most juvenile delinquency and children in need of services (CHINs) petitions are processed through the NH district and family court system. The court will determine the appropriate course of action or services that best meet the needs of the child and family. Services can range from residential, community, home based or institutional services.

Who can take a child to court?

Delinquent Acts (felony or misdemeanor crime committed by a child), anyone can bring charges against a child by filing a sworn document called a juvenile petition with the court. However, in almost all instances it is better to report delinquent acts to a law enforcement agency because the police have the training, expertise and resources to investigate and prosecute the matter that most private citizens would not have.

Child in Need of Services (CHINS), only a parent, police officer or school official can file a juvenile petition. By NH law, the person filing a juvenile petition (delinquent or CHINS) has the burden to prosecute and prove the charge before the court "beyond a reasonable doubt".

Parent or School Official Filing a CHINS Petition, the petitioner must include information that demonstrates to the court that the child and family, or the school district (as applicable), tried to resolve the matter out-of-court using community alternatives or educational approaches, but the problem remains and court intervention is needed.

Are there any age limitations for bringing a juvenile into court?

For truancy, the minimum age is 6 years old. For all other complaints, there is no minimum age in NH, however, the court must be satisfied that the child is legally competent to stand trial.

The maximum age for delinquency is 18 (persons age 17 and older are prosecuted as adults).

The maximum age for CHINS depends upon the offense, however, persons age 18 and over are adults so CHINS offenses no longer apply.

Do all children who break the law go to court?

Children who commit minor offenses, children who have no prior record, and younger children may be referred by the court, police officer or a probation and parole officer directly to a community diversion program for an appropriate disposition.

What happens to juveniles who are brought to court on criminal charges?

Each child's case is handled on an individual basis. If the child denies the offense and the petitioner fails to provide sufficient witness testimony and evidence to prove the case "beyond a reasonable doubt", the judge must dismiss the case. However, most juvenile cases are proven either by the child admitting that the complaint is "true" or by the evidence presented at trial.

What can happen to a juvenile when he or she is found guilty?

In substantiated cases judges consider the offense and any prior record as well as a child's unique needs and circumstances. The goal is to balance the child's needs for rehabilitation with the community's need for safety. Dispositional (sentencing) options available to the court include fines, victim restitution, uncompensated public service, supervision by a JPPO, community-based treatment programs, out-of-home placement or any combination of these options.

In cases involving serious, violent or chronic delinquents or delinquents who refuse to obey a court's orders, the court can commit the juvenile to the Youth Services Center (YSC) until their 17th birthday. Depending on age, behavior, success and length of residence at YSC, committed juveniles may be paroled into the community under the supervision of a JPPO. In selected cases, the Court (prior to the youth's 17th birthday) can continue to exercise juvenile jurisdiction after the 17th birthday of a delinquent up to the 18th birthday or, for a CHINS, after the 18th birthday, up to the 21st birthday.

What courts have jurisdiction over juvenile cases?

In eight NH counties, the District Court has jurisdiction over delinquency and Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases. In the two remaining counties, Grafton and Rockingham, the Family Court Division has jurisdiction. A juvenile petition may be filed in the District Court or Family Court Division where the child was either found or resided.

Sometimes one court will transfer a juvenile case to another court; this is called a "change of venue". In special circumstances, such as "habeas corpus" or appeals of lower court decisions, the Superior Court or Supreme Court may decide juvenile cases.

Are children entitled to or required to have a lawyer represent them?

All children brought before a NH court, either as delinquent or CHINS, are entitled to be represented by an attorney hired by their parent or guardian or appointed by the court. A child may waive or give up his or her right to legal representation under certain circumstances. However, any delinquent child for whom detention is considered, or any child whose parent filed the juvenile petition, must be represented by an attorney throughout the court proceedings.

If I am the victim of a crime committed by a child, what are my rights to information?

Upon request by a victim, the name, age, address, gender, offense charged and custody status of the juvenile may be disclosed any time after arrest or service of a petition. However, it is unlawful for a victim to disclose any confidential information to any person not authorized or entitled to it; knowing disclosure of such confidential information is a misdemeanor.

NH Statute also provides that the victim and a victim witness advocate, or other person chosen by the victim, shall be permitted to attend court sessions regarding the juvenile. If the victim is unable to attend the hearing, the prosecution, upon request of the victim, may disclose to the victim information disclosed at the hearing. Victims of a "violent crime" (certain major felonies specified by NH Statute), upon request to the prosecution, are entitled to additional rights and access to information.

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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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