Law Offices of Kristina Wildeveld
& Associates

Juvenile Criminal Defense

The Nevada Juvenile Court handles cases involving minors (anyone under the age of 18) who have been charged with violating the law, such as juvenile delinquency or other offense.  Children who are charged with offenses that would be crimes if they were adults are classified as delinquents.

Status offenders are those children who commit acts that are unlawful because of their age, such as truancy, incorrigibility, and runaway.  Status offenders also are referred to as "children in need of supervision."  

The Juvenile Courts also handle the cases of dependant children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents or guardians.

In Nevada, children who commit murder or attempted murder are treated as adults regardless of their age.  In addition, when a juvenile between the ages of sixteen and eighteen commits a crime, which would be considered a felony or gross misdemeanor if committed by an adult, the District Court can certify that child as an adult and move the case to the Criminal Courts for prosecution.  Such certification usually takes place when the alleged offense is extremely violent or heinous, or if the juvenile's past criminal behavior indicates that treatment within the juvenile system will have no value to the individual.  Kristina Wildeveld specializes in Juvenile certification cases and has extensive experience

All juvenile matters, regardless of the nature of the charges, are considered civil offenses.


Law used to prosecute juveniles as adults ruled unconstitutional

The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a state law used to prosecute juveniles charged with serious crimes in adult court, saying the statute violated their constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Under the presumptive certification law, juveniles 14 or older charged with gun crimes and violent sex crimes were automatically sent to adult court unless they could show that substance abuse, or emotional or behavioral problems led to the crimes. But in making that connection the juveniles admitted to the crimes, which could be used against them in future court hearings.

The law’s “requirement that a juvenile admit the charged criminal conduct, and thereby incriminate himself, in order to overcome the presumption of adult supervision is unconstitutional,” the court wrote in its unanimous ruling.

The high court also reversed a 1995 decision that said Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination did not apply in juvenile certification hearings because guilt was not being determined.

Despite Wednesday’s decision, juveniles charged with serious crimes can still be sent to adult court using discretionary certification, which requires approval from a judge after prosecutors make their case based on factors such as the seriousness of the crime, the threat to public safety and the juvenile’s criminal history.

Defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada hailed the court’s decision.

“This is an important and sweeping decision for Nevada’s juvenile justice system,” said Lee Rowland, an ACLU lawyer who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

The National Juvenile Defender Center in Washington, D.C., and the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of two Las Vegas teens represented by defense lawyer Kristina Wildeveld.

Other states with presumptive certification laws either don’t require the juvenile to show a connection to the crime or prohibit an admission of the crime for certification hearings from being used against the juvenile, Rowland said.

She said she expected the law to be revisited during the 2009 legislative session.

Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn, in praising the ruling, said the law “put juveniles in a horrible situation. If you wanted to avoid going to adult court, you had to admit to things that would be used against you later.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Clark County district attorney’s office juvenile division expressed disappointment.

“We consider it an unfortunate ruling for victims and public safety,” Mary Brown said. “We’re talking about violent felonies with firearms. We’re not talking about misdemeanors or auto burglaries.”

The Supreme Court decision stemmed from two 2006 armed robbery cases.

William Molina, then 17, was charged with acting as a lookout during a holdup at a Roberto’s taco shop.

He had a history of alcohol abuse, drug use and mental illness, but he was certified as an adult because he denied being involved in the crime, according to court documents.

Molina, now 19, was being held in the Clark County Detention Center while his case was pending.

The other teen, Marques Butler, was also 17 when he was charged with taking part in the armed robbery of two people in a park.

He had a history of drug use, learning disabilities and an IQ of 74, which is the “borderline range of intellectual functioning,” according to the court’s decision. He said he did not take part in the crime, so he was transferred to adult court.

He was released on house arrest while his case was pending.

Both cases were expected to move back to juvenile court.

Wildeveld said the court’s ruling gives elected judges the power to evaluate cases on their own merits before sending juveniles to adult court. Many juvenile cases that go to adult court end in probation, which doesn’t give troubled teens the treatment and supervision they need to turn their lives around, she said.

Under the presumptive certification law judges had little discretion in deciding whether certain teens were better served in juvenile court, where they can be more closely monitored and access treatment services, she said.

Brown of the district attorney’s office said most cases that went to adult court under presumptive certification would still be transferred using discretionary certification.

“The state’s position is when you hold up someone with a gun and you’re 16 and you have priors, you belong in adult court,” Brown said.

About 80 juveniles in Clark County were certified as adults in 2007, and about half of those were presumptively certified, she said.

Kohn, the public defender, said adult courts should be reserved for the worst offenders. Most teens and children are best served in juvenile court, where they have better access to treatment and where rehabiliation, not punishment, is the top priority, he said.

Wednesday’s decision should send any pending cases back to juvenile court, where they would face another certification hearing, he said. His office was reviewing cases that have already ended in convictions for possible appeals.

Juveniles may be referred to the juvenile court for law violations or behavior that is unlawful. The following are some types of behavior that can subject a juvenile to court action:

Skipping school

Making anonymous phone calls

Gambling for money

Staying out past curfew

Running away from home

Purchasing or drinking alcoholic beverages

Buying, using or selling illicit drugs

Setting fire to buildings or other property

Driving a car without a license or permit

Driving too fast or recklessly

Using threat of force to get something from someone else

Drag racing

Taking or riding in a person's car without permission

Taking any item from a store without paying for it

Carrying a dangerous weapon

Participating in a gang fight

Having a fist fight

Using or accepting something that another has taken without permission

Deliberately damaging or destroying another's property


Setting off a false fire alarm

Deliberately disobeying parents

Having sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex

Having homosexual relations

Breaking into or forcibly entering a residence or place of business

There are five distinct phases of the juvenile court process:

      I.  Filing of Petition

     II. Referral to Intake

    III. Fitness Hearing (Conducted if the minor may be subjected to general adult criminal law)

    IV.   Adjudication

     V.  Disposition

I. Filing of Petition

A juvenile criminal investigation begins when law enforcement receives information from parents, social agencies, schools or private individuals. Once law enforcement conducts an investigation, a determination is made as to whether there is enough evidence to find the juvenile guilty of the crime. Law enforcement will forward this information to the juvenile probation office and then to the district attorney who will investigate and file the petition.

During the filing of the petition, the juvenile may be:

  1. Counseled and released to their parents.
  2. Referred and diverted to community resources such as social services.
  3. Cited and referred to juvenile intake. Released to parents.
  4. Transported to Juvenile Hall or a shelter.

II. Referral to Intake

If the juvenile is cited or transported to juvenile hall, the matter will be screened to see if the case should be handled judicially (criminal charges filed) or nonjudicially (criminal charges not filed). If the case is handled judicially, there are four phases including petition filing, intake interview, adjudicatory hearing and disposition. In a nonjudicial handling, a petition is not filed and the parents and juvenile voluntarily agree to counseling or other community services and the juvenile might be placed on probation.

During the intake screening the juvenile is either:

      1. Detained in Juvenile Hall prior to court appearance.

      2.  Released or referred to community resources.

      3.  Released to parents prior to court appearance.

If law enforcement requests to detain the juvenile, a detention hearing will occur within 72 hours. During the detention hearing, a judge determines whether continued detention is appropriate. After the detention hearing, the juvenile can either be released to the custody of their family or will remain in detention.

The National Advisory Committee for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recommends that a juvenile should be detained if:

They are fugitives from another jurisdiction.

  1. They present an immediate threat of serious physical injury.
  2. They are charged with first or second-degree murder.
  3. They are charged with a serious property crime or a crime of violence other than first or second degree murder, which, if committed by an adult, would be a felony, and
    1. They are already detained or on conditioned release in connection with another delinquency proceeding.
    2. They have a demonstrable recent record of willful failures to appear at any other court proceedings.
    3. They have a demonstrable recent record of violent conduct resulting in physical injury to others.
    4. They have a demonstrable recent record of adjudications for serious property offense.
  4. There is no less restrictive alternative that will reduce the risk of flight, or of serious harm to property or to the physical safety of the juvenile or others.

If the juvenile is not detained and it is not a serious crime, law enforcement will generally forward the case to the probation department. The probation department can approve diversion or even dismissal. Diversion can be either total or partial. Total diversion is possible as an alternative to juvenile court involvement through a referral to another agency or a decision to drop the charges. Partial diversion occurs after the juvenile court contacts the juvenile and some type of informal supervision or treatment is given.

III. Fitness Hearing

A fitness hearing is conducted to determine whether the minor is fit to be tried in a juvenile hearing. If the minor is found to be fit, considering relevant evidence and testimony, proceedings against the minor continue in the juvenile court. If the minor is found to be unfit, the juvenile court petition is dismissed and the prosecuting attorney is authorized to prosecute the minor under the general adult criminal law.

IV. Adjudication

Once a case proceeds to juvenile court, a jurisdictional hearing is held in which the juvenile admits to or denies the allegations. If the juvenile admits to the allegations, they are sentenced by the juvenile court. If they deny the allegations, and the case is not resolved at a pre-heating conference, then an adjudication hearing is held. At an adjudication hearing, the district attorney presents the evidence to a juvenile court judge. At this hearing, the juvenile is guaranteed the rights of due process and privilege against self-incrimination.

V. Disposition

After the trial is complete, and if the juvenile is convicted, a disposition hearing is conducted. The judge determines the appropriate penalties for the offense. Specific penalties include:

Release to family with a warning or reprimand
  1. Probation with conditions, such as:
    1. Imposition of a fine or restitution – reimbursing victim for damages
    2. Community service
    3. Referral to social agencies for counseling or treatment
  2. Suspended Disposition (Sentencing at a later date)
  3. Residential treatment centers
  4. Placed in a foster or group home
  5. Placement in secured facilities which can include Juvenile Hall, youth authority and camp ranch schools, boot camps and work camps



Juvenile Sex Offenders (JSO)