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Our Court Systems and How They Differ
There are three main parts to our criminal justice system. One of these three parts is the court system. There are many different types of courts in the criminal justice system including juvenile court, family court, criminal court, and civil court. While these courts have many similarities, they all differ. Each court has a different task and focuses on different cases.
Louisiana is made up of many courts. Each court is divided between 40 districts. Alexandria, where LSUA is located, is in the Western Court District. There are five family and juvenile courts in Louisiana. In 2013, there were almost one thousand delinquency cases in juvenile court. In the same year, there were almost 300 cases dealing with FINS. Different types of cases are held in Louisiana courts; we have separate courts for each case.
A juvenile court differs from other courts, because of the ages they focus on. Juvenile court deals with individuals under the age of 18. Most juvenile cases only involve small crimes like disruption or simple assault. There are many steps to the criminal process of juveniles. The first step is usually arresting the juvenile suspect. The juvenile would then be booked. The booking procedures and process in called “intakes” (Adler et. al., p. 26, 2009). After a juvenile is booked, a proceeding would then be started, which starts with a petition. Unlike adults, underage criminals would most likely be released to their parents, and wait for a hearing. This hearing is called an adjuratory hearing. After this process is done the court will decide if the juvenile is a delinquent.
An example of a juvenile court case would be a child under the age of 18 committing simple assault. That happened here in Jena Louisiana. In 2018 when a juvenile assaulted a woman and her children with a pipe. The juvenile’s case was then handled in a juvenile court, this was because the suspect was under 18.
Juvenile courts and criminal courts both focus on crimes, but they focus on different ages of the suspect. Juvenile courts focus on laws that were broken by suspects under the age of 18, while criminal law focuses on laws that were broken by suspects over the age of 18. Criminal courts focus on adults who commit a crime. That crime usually includes murder, theft, simple assault, or aggravated assault. Adults charged in a criminal court cannot be labeled as a delinquent, but can be charged if they committed a crime. Adults in criminal courts might wait in jail for their hearing, unlike juveniles who are released to their parents before the hearing. However, in criminal court, the suspect can be released on bail. Family court is not like criminal courts, but a domestic violence case may be considered criminal, and the case will go to a criminal court.
An example of a criminal court case would be the case involving Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. Sarmina is a judge who conducted a criminal court case for murder. The murder involved a 21-year-old police officer and a man named Edward Bracey. Since the case involved a suspect over the age of 21, it was an adult criminal court case. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina did rule “that Edward Bracey was mentally handicapped, and therefore could not be executed for the 1991 murder” (Dean. 2014).
Family courts handle cases that revolve around family or children issues. Most of the time family courts do not deal with crimes. The cases a family court would handle are divorce, child custody, domestic violence, and other family related issues. An example of a family court case would be a woman taking her divorced husband to court for child custody or child support. As a child who had divorced parents, I have heard first-hand about many cases. Whether it was domestic violence, child custody, or child support. In 2018, Ms. Keller took her child’s dad to a family court to raise the cost of child support. However, in the end, the support amount was lowered. An example of a family court case would be a woman taking her divorced husband to court for child custody or child support.
Juvenile courts and family courts focus on different tasks, but they apply similar services to children and families in need. In a juvenile court, they have a juvenile process. After the criminal justice system gets the juvenile suspect in custody, they may apply two services, they will either apply Family in Need of Services (FINS) or Children in Need of Services (CHINS). If they apply the court dependent to FINS. FINS stands for Family in Need of Services, these services are usually seen in a juvenile court, but can sometimes be seen in a family court. FINS is for children under the age of 18, but can also include the caretaker if they have committed a crime. Family in Need of Services can send the juvenile to stay with another person who will be the child’s caretaker. However, they will not send them to a detention facility. FINS can be formal or informal. “A complaint is considered to be formal FINS when the complaint only fins ground” (Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court, p.1, 2016). This means that if a complaint contains more than just FINS complaints, the case will not be considered formal FINS.
Juvenile courts can also apply CHINS. CHINS stands for a Child in Need of Services. This is a civil proceeding they use in court. They use this to try to get the underage child to conform to the laws. There are four types of CHINS, they include a runaway, stubborn child, habitual school offender, or truancy. A juvenile court uses FINS and CHINS, while Person in Need of Supervision (PINS) is mainly used in family courts.
Family courts apply PINS. PINS stands for a Person in Need of Supervision. PINS focus on individuals under the age of eighteen. Usually, a child who needs supervision, PINS is someone who usually acts out in a disruptive way. These disruptive ways can include disobeying a person of authority or missing a lot of school. However, missing school can fall under the FINS.
Family and Juvenile courts have their similarities, but they are very different. Juvenile courts apply FINS and CHINS, while family courts apply PINS. The juvenile court focuses on underage individuals who committed a crime. Family courts focus on family matters. This includes divorce, domestic violence, and many other family matters. However, sometimes domestic violence is classified under criminal court.
Civil court is like a family court, but it does not have a lot of similarities to juvenile and criminal court. A civil court deals with lawsuits or other cases with two separate individuals. This can sometimes be like family court. For example, divorce, but family and criminal court are not the same. Civil courts also deal with cases like abandonment and shoplifting. An example of a civil court case would be the case of someone suing someone else, because of late rent or damage to property. That case would be held in a civil court.
Our criminal justice system has different court systems for different cases. Each court has different tasks and jobs, and they deal with different cases. The judges in a criminal court focus on criminal suspects over the age of 18. The judges in a juvenile court focus on criminal suspects under the age of 18. Family court judges deal with family matters. While civil court judges deal with lawsuits and small claims.
Adler, F., Muller, G. 0., & Laufer, W. S. (2009). Criminal Justice an Introduction (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Dean, M. M. (2014, January 24). Controversial Judge Moves from Criminal Court to Civil Court. Retrieved February 4, 2019, from website.
Hartofilis, D., & McAdoo, K. (2007). Separate but Not Equal. A Call for the Merger of the New York State Family and Supreme Courts, 40(4). doi:Legal Source
Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court. (22, June 2016). 5-Year Comparison, 1-1.