Juvenile Court

Juvenile Petitions and Juvenile Court
New Hampshire provides for two distinct juvenile petition types: Children in Need of Services (CHINS) and Juvenile Delinquency.

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.

Children In Need of Services (CHINS)

In NH a CHINS is a child who:

  • Is subject to compulsory school attendance (between ages 6 and 16) and who is habitually, willfully and without good and sufficient cause, truant from school;
  • Is under 18 years of age and who habitually runs away from home;
  • Is under 18 years of age and who repeatedly disregards the reasonable and lawful commands of his or her parents, guardian or custodian and places himself or herself or others in unsafe circumstances;
  • Is under 18 years of age and exhibits willful repeated or habitual conduct that is equivalent to violations of the criminal laws of this state if committed by an adult (excluding felonies and misdemeanors);
  • Has exhibited willful repeated or habitual conduct constituting offenses which would be violations under the criminal code of this state if committed by an adult or, if committed by a person 16 years of age or older, would be violations under the motor vehicle code of this state or 
  • With a diagnosis of severe emotional, cognitive, or other mental health issues,  engages in aggressive, fire setting, or sexualized behaviors that pose a danger to the child or others and who is otherwise unable or ineligible to receive services under RSA 169-B or RSA 169-C;  and is expressly found to be in need of care, guidance, counseling, discipline, supervision, treatment, or rehabilitation

Children who are brought before the Family Division Court through a CHINS petition are assigned a Juvenile Probation and Parole Officer through DCYF Juvenile Justice Services. The Court has the discretionary authority to order services and provide judicial oversight. 

Juvenile Delinquency

A delinquent in New Hampshire is defined as an individual under the age of 18 who commits an offense that if committed by an adult would be the equivalent of a felony or misdemeanor crime.

In most instances, juvenile complaints should be reported to a law enforcement agency for investigation. All crimes should be reported to the police. In the case of an emergency, dial 911.

Missing and Runaway Children

In the case of missing or runaway children, the parent or guardian should report the child to the police as soon as possible so that the police can assist in locating the child before the child is harmed or victimized. Police have the resources to share information nationwide with other law enforcement agencies in order to locate missing and runaway children. Depending upon where you live, call your local police department, the state police or the county sheriff. In the case of an emergency, dial 911.

Frequently Asked Questions

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, but the prosecuting authority may file charges for offenses that were committed prior to the age of 18 and retain jurisdiction through the age of 19 (see RSA 169-B:4,I). Otherwise, if a person turns 18 and commits a crime, they will be prosecuted as an adult (see RSA 169-B:4,II).

All CHINS cases need to be closed at 18, unless the youth voluntarily extends jurisdiction for the purposes of earning their high school diploma. The case must close upon earning the high school diploma or reaching the age of 21.

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 the charges are found true?

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 residential treatment 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 in certain circumstances to the Youth Services Center (YSC) until their 18th 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.

What courts have jurisdiction over juvenile cases?

In NH, the Family Court Division has jurisdiction over delinquency and Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases.

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.