Michigan Juvenile Law

Juveniles, like adults, face criminal prosecution on a daily basis. Also like adults, kids 16 and under have rights under the U.S. and Michigan constitutions. Mike Walsh forcefully defends those rights.

This article concerning juvenile law is not meant to be comprehensive nor should it be applied to an existing situation.

As with adults, prosecutions often start with an arrest. Typically, police provide Miranda warnings, then ask the child to explain what happened. The child and his parents should be calm and cooperative but politely decline to speak until after consulting an attorney. What is said CAN and WILL be used against the child in a court of law and can have life-changing consequences. But never run from police or try to resist. This will result in a serious felony charge.

Depending on the nature of the arrest, police may lodge the child at the county’s youth detention facility or bring him or her home. In either case, the court is notified and a preliminary examination is immediately scheduled.

Preliminary examination

For very minor offenses, court staff may initially interview the child and his parents to determine if the case can be diverted. But for more serious matters, this is the first stage in the Michigan juvenile criminal legal process.
Purpose of the preliminary examination is three-fold. The magistrate will:

  • Determine if probable cause exists (was there probably a crime and did the Respondent probably do it?);
  • Set bond or order placement, and
  • Determine – in consultation with the defense attorney and prosecutor- how the case will proceed.


In some cases, the defense attorney in consultation with the client and the child’s parents and prosecutor can agree on the best solution. If the child also agrees the case may be dismissed, the charge(s) reduced, or a plea taken. But more serious charges often cannot be resolved in such a quick way.

A child facing a felony charge likely would require more time to consult with his or her attorney before proceeding. In that case, the case likely would be set for a pretrial hearing.

Pretrial hearing

A decision must be made at this stage. The client, the child’s parents, and the defense attorney by now have had adequate time to review the case and determine how best to proceed. The child may enter a plea at the pretrial hearing or the matter can be set for trial before a circuit judge or a circuit jury.


A criminal trial involving a juvenile is the same as it is for an adult. The child has the right to counsel, to confront his or her accuser, to give testimony, and to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The trial may be held in front of a judge or a six-person jury. The trial ends in a verdict – guilty or not guilty.


Unlike adults, juveniles are not “convicted” of crimes; they are “adjudicated.” And juvenile courts don’t punish, they prescriptively treat the child.

Treatment could range from basic probation services – such as writing letters of apology or community service - to placement in out-of-state lockdown facilities. After a plea or conviction, a probation officer is assigned to the child. The PO’s job is to evaluate the case and to make treatment recommendations to the court. The court may accept or reject the recommendation or any part of it. Usually the court then periodically reviews the child’s progress until probation ends.

Designated cases

There are a number of significant felony charges that could force a child to face prosecution – and sentencing – as an adult. The court, upon a prosecutor’s motion, may order a child to face charges as an adult. In other cases, prosecutors may directly “designate” cases they feel would better protect the community. Juveniles charged with the following could face adult prosecution:

  • Arson
  • Assault with intent to commit murder
  • Assault with intent to maim
  • Assault with intent to rob while armed
  • Attempted murder
  • First-degree murder
  • Second-degree murder
  • Kidnapping
  • First-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • Armed robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Robbery of a bank, safe, or vault
  • Possession, manufacture, or delivery of, or possession with intent to manufacture or Deliver, 650 grams or more of any schedule 1 or 2 controlled substance
  • Assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, if armed with a dangerous weapon.
  • First-degree home invasion, if armed with a dangerous weapon.
  • Escape or attempted escape from a medium security or high security facility operated by Department of Human Services or a high-security facility operated by a private agency under contract with DHS.


Designation hearing

A “designated” case begins with a designation hearing. In it, the court hears argument from the prosecution and defense concerning the alleged offense, the child’s history, and whether the juvenile division of the family court or the circuit court would be the better venue for the matter, if the best interests of the juvenile AND the public would be served by the juvenile being tried in the same manner as an adult.
The court reviews several factors in making its determination:

  • Seriousness of the alleged offense
  • The juvenile’s culpability
  • The child’s prior record
  • Programming history of the child with the court.
  • Adequacy of the punishment or programming available in the juvenile justice system
  • Dispositional options available.


If the court believes the child’s case should be maintained in the traditional juvenile court manner, the designation motion would be denied and the case remanded to the juvenile court’s schedule for further action. On the other hand, if the court designates the case, it then proceeds as any other adult criminal case: Preliminary Examination, Pretrial Hearing(s), Plea or Trial. However, upon conviction, the court could opt to sentence the child as a juvenile or as an adult.

Lifelong record and expungement

Juvenile “adjudications” remain on a child’s record forever and remain public until age 30. Under Michigan’s expungement statute, the child may ask a court to expunge a misdemeanor (or set aside a felony) five years after completion of probation. However, this option is not open to anyone who has more than one conviction on his or her record.

Facing Juvenile Law Issues in West Michigan?

Juvenile charges are not kidstuff. A child facing a misdemeanor or felony charge is dealing with a life-changing situation. He or she needs an attorney experienced in this area of law. Call Mike Walsh at 231-726-1400 or, toll-free, at 866-726-1400 for a free initial consultation.