Crime and the Criminal Justice System
This section explains important parts of what may happen if law enforcement officials think you have or are committing a crime. Here you can find out when police can stop you, search you, or arrest you, and what your rights are if any of these things happen to you. This section also explains criminal proceedings, beginning with the juvenile justice system. Juvenile justice may be informal or may involve formal proceedings, including the stages of pre-adjudication, adjudication and disposition. But if you are over 18 or if a judge has decided you should be tried in adult court, you will go through adult criminal proceedings which have some important differences from the juvenile justice system. You can find more information about the justice system in Alaska and how it may affect juveniles at www.beforeyouplea.com/ak.
This section also explains some kinds of help you can get if you are the victim of a crime or if you are a witness to a crime. Finally, this section tells you about some kinds of crimes and what behavior can make you guilty of those crimes.
Important Note: In this section, the word “police” or “law enforcement officers” includes city or borough police, Alaska State Troopers, or Village Public Safety Officers (VSPO’s).
Encounters with Law Enforcement
When can a law enforcement officer stop me or my car?
In Alaska, police can come up to you and talk to you whenever they want to. You can always refuse to talk to them, or walk away. But to “detain you,” which means to prevent you from leaving when you want to leave, police must have a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a crime has occurred or that you might be involved in recent serious harm to persons or property. “Reasonable, articulable suspicion” means an officer must have a good reason that he or she can clearly explain to justify the stop. This means that police can't just stop you on the side of the street at any time and make you talk to them.
Do I have to answer a police officer’s questions?
You must give the police your name and identifying information if they ask. You don’t have to answer other questions. That means you don't have to answer if the police ask questions like “Where are you kids coming from tonight?” or “Do you know anyone around here?” You don’t have to volunteer any information. You can ask “Am I free to go?” If they say you are free to go, then you can leave.
What are my rights if the police question me?
Police can continue to question you if don’t object and are willing to answer. If police officers say you are not free to go, and ask you more questions, you can ask “Am I under arrest?” If you are under arrest, police must tell you that
- you have the right to remain silent;
- anything you say can be used against you in court;
- you have the right to talk to a lawyer (also called an attorney) and have the lawyer with you to help you when police question you; and
- if you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one for you at public expense.
This information is called the Miranda warning. When a police officer gives you this information, it is called reading you your Miranda rights. The information in this section explains what your rights are. View more information and a card that you can carry with you.
You also have the right to have a parent or other adult present. It is important to tell the police officers that you do want an attorney or your parents to be there for you, because police will stop the questioning until you get an attorney or a parent.
If the police stop me and ask questions, are they recording me?
Most likely, yes. Alaska police officers almost always carry voice recorders in the chest pockets of their uniforms, so your conversation with them is most likely being recorded. They do this to make a record of what you say and what they say, so there is evidence if someone says this questioning happened differently. That means that anything you say to the police (even before they read you your rights) will be recorded, and if you end up going to court, the prosecutors can play it, and ask the jury to consider it to find you guilty of a crime. Because anything you say to a police officer may be eventually played for your lawyer, your parents, a judge, or a jury, you should keep it respectful.
Do police get to search me whenever they want to?
No. You have the right to be free from what the law calls “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means that the police can't search your clothing or your things unless it is “reasonable” for them to do so. Generally, the police are allowed to search you:
- if they have your permission;
- if they have a search warrant;
- if there is an emergency;
- if you are under arrest; or
- if they think you have a weapon on you.
The legal rules about searches are complicated, so there are also other situations when police may be allowed to search you. One important thing you should know is that if you consent, police can search anything at all. In other words, if you agree to allow them to search, you give up your right to be free from unreasonable searches. Police officers will often ask you if they can search your things. If this happens, you have the right to say no. The police cannot use your refusal as evidence that you are guilty or that you have something to hide. If you do give your permission, you should be clear about what is okay to search. For example, you could say, “You may search my backpack, but not my body.”
What is a search warrant?
If you don't agree to let the police search you, they may get a search warrant that allows them to search you, your backpack, your car, your home, or other places specified in the search warrant. The police have to apply for a search warrant by explaining to a judge, in writing, why they think they need to search you. The judge is responsible for deciding whether the reasons the police give in asking for a search warrant are enough under the law to justify a search of your or your things. If police obtain a search warrant, it should describe specifically what they are allowed to search.
What if the officer wants to search my car or my backpack or my pockets?
If you haven’t consented and you think the officer is making an improper search, you should politely object. If the officer says he or she has a search warrant, you have a right to see it and read it. If the officer insists on searching without a warrant and without your permission, you should remain cooperative and polite. Remember as much as you can about what happened and tell your lawyer. If the search was illegal, your lawyer may ask the court to suppress anything the officer finds. If a court rules that the search was illegal, any suppressed items will probably not be allowed as evidence in court.
Arrests and your rights in criminal proceedings
How do I know if I am under arrest?
If you are not allowed to leave, then you are under arrest. If you don’t know if you are under arrest, you should politely ask the officer: “Am I under arrest?” If you have been arrested, you can ask the officer what you have been arrested for.
When can the police arrest me?
If a police officer has probable cause to believe that you have just committed a crime, the officer can arrest you on the spot. Probable cause requires only a good reason to think that you have been doing something that is a crime. Usually, to make a legal arrest, the officer must be able to show that at least one of the following is true:
- The officer witnessed you commit or try to commit a crime;
- The officer has a court order to arrest you;
- The officer has probable cause to believe that you have violated conditions of release or probation;
- You have escaped from lawful custody;
- You were lawfully detained by a private citizen;
- You are a runaway or a minor who is abused, abandoned, or in immediate danger.
If the police officer suspects you of committing a crime, a police officer may write up a complaint and bring it to a judge. The judge will decide if there is probable cause to believe that the crime has been committed and that you are the one who committed it. The judge will issue either a summons or an arrest warrant. If the court issues a summons, law enforcement officers will not take you into custody, but you must appear in court on the date and at the time the summons says. If you don’t, the court will issue an arrest warrant for you.
If the court issues an arrest warrant, police officers will attempt to find you, take you into custody, and book you into jail. It is important not to try to run or resist the officers when they arrest you. If you do, you could be charged with additional crimes like resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer.
If the police have been investigating you for a crime, especially if the crime is a serious one called a felony, the prosecutor could decide to present the evidence against you to a grand jury and obtain an indictment. An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is enough evidence against you for the case to continue. A grand jury is a group of community members who look at the evidence against a suspect and decide if there is probable cause to believe that person committed the crime. If the grand jury decides to indict you, the court will then issue either a summons or an arrest warrant.
What will happen if I am arrested?
If you are arrested, you will be taken to jail and will go through the booking process. Your belongings will be taken from you for safekeeping. You will be allowed to contact an attorney and a friend or family member. Again, the officers may ask to interview you while you are in jail. You do not have to answer their questions. If you clearly request an attorney, the officers must stop questioning you.
Criminal proceedings, including juvenile delinquency proceedings for a person under 18, generally begin with an arrest. Read the links in this section on juvenile justice proceedings or adult criminal proceedings for more information about what will happen after your arrest.
What legal rights do I have if I am arrested?
A person arrested for a crime has legal rights that are intended to make sure the criminal process is fair. If officers want to ask you questions after you are arrested, they must tell you about your rights by giving you information that is called the Miranda warning. The exact words of the Miranda warning may differ, but the arresting officer must tell you that
- you have the right to remain silent;
- anything you say can be used against you in court;
- you have the right to talk to a lawyer (also called an attorney) and have the lawyer with you to help you when police question you; and
- if you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one for you at public expense.
These rights are explained more completely below. You should listen carefully and do your best to remember these rights. Even if the officers forget to read these rights to you, in some cases, they could still use anything you say against you in court.
Do I have a right to make a phone call?
You have the right to make two phone calls --one to your lawyer and one to a friend or family member.
What does “the right to remain silent” mean?
The right to remain silent means that you do not have to answer the officer’s questions or talk to the officer at all. If you do decide to answer the officer’s questions, you are waiving your right to remain silent, and anything you say could be used as evidence against you in a trial in court. This is true even if you have already said that you did not want to answer questions. By voluntarily starting to talk, you are waiving your right to remain silent. But even if you decide at first to talk to the arresting officer, you can change your mind. You can stop talking or answering questions at any time.
What does it mean to “waive my rights?”
The officer may ask you if you wish to waive your rights. That is, do you voluntarily choose to give up your rights? You should talk to a lawyer, or to your parents or guardian, before you write anything, sign anything, or waive any of your rights.
If I refuse to talk to the police, won’t I look guilty?
The police cannot use your silence against you. This means that they cannot argue in court that you are guilty because you refused to talk to them or answer questions.
What does the right to have a lawyer mean?
If the police ask you questions, you have the right to talk to a lawyer. You can tell the police you want to have a lawyer and a parent or guardian with you when you answer questions. You have the right to a court-appointed lawyer if you or your family cannot afford a lawyer. You will not have to pay a court-appointed lawyer, but you will have to show the court that you really do not have the money to pay a lawyer.
Asking for a lawyer has an important effect even though the lawyer will probably not meet with you immediately. If you ask for a lawyer, the police must stop talking to you entirely. If you just remain silent, but don’t ask for a lawyer, the police can keep talking to you and asking you questions.
If I ask for a lawyer, won’t I look guilty?
The fact that you asked for a lawyer cannot be used against you in court. Whether you are guilty or innocent, a lawyer can do many things to help you. A lawyer can steer you through the criminal process and help protect your rights. A lawyer is an expert in the law and the processes that you will go through. The lawyer may think of things that you did not consider. Even if you think you didn’t do anything wrong, the process can be confusing and frightening, and it is always a good idea to have someone who understands the processes on your side.
What if my parents want me to talk or refuse to get me a lawyer?
It is your choice whether to follow your parents’ advice, but you should think carefully before giving up any of your rights. Your parents may not understand the situation, or you may not agree on what is best for you. You should ask your lawyer whether it is a good idea to answer police questions. If your parents won’t get a lawyer for you, you can ask the court to appoint one for free. Even if your parents hire or pay for your lawyer, they cannot tell your lawyer what to do. Your lawyer represents your interests only.
What if I didn’t do it or the officer made a mistake in arresting me?
No matter what has happened, don’t act angry or rude. Do not resist arrest by yelling, cursing, refusing to follow orders, or becoming violent with the officer. Resisting arrest is a separate offense and you could get in trouble for it, even if you didn’t do what the arresting officer thinks you did. Officers are allowed to use whatever force is necessary to arrest you. If you resist, you could be injured or even killed. If you think your arrest was illegal, you should tell your lawyer. Your lawyer will advise you about objecting to the arrest later on in court. If you think there was a simple misunderstanding, you can calmly try to explain yourself to the officer. But remember that it may be a good idea to remain silent, since anything you say can be used against you in court.
Can a security guard stop, search and arrest me?
Security guards are usually employed by a store or other private business. The security guard patrols or watches the place of business and protects against theft, vandalism, or destruction of goods or property. Security guards have to be licensed in Alaska, but they are not police officers. Still, a security guard can stop and reasonably search you for the same reasons as other law enforcement officials. Security guards can arrest you to recover stolen or shoplifted property.
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The juvenile justice process
Will I be treated differently in court if I am under age 18?
If you are under the age of 18, you are considered a juvenile for the purposes of criminal proceedings. If you are accused of doing something that would be a crime for an adult, you will probably be involved in a special court proceeding called a delinquency hearing. Juvenile delinquency cases may include the whole range of crimes from shoplifting to murder. A juvenile has many of the same rights as an adult, but the processes for delinquency cases are different than for adult criminal proceedings. This section explains what you can expect at each stage of the juvenile delinquency process and what your rights are during the process. It also gives some tips on what to do and how to act during the process.
What happens in juvenile proceedings?
Like other criminal proceedings, juvenile delinquency proceedings begin with investigation and arrest. Law enforcement officers respond to crimes by trying to find out what happened. The officers may gather evidence and question witnesses and suspects, either before or after they arrest a suspect. Youth counselors may also perform some of these tasks.
Why are juvenile proceedings different from adult criminal cases?
In juvenile proceedings, the rules are flexible because the goal is to rehabilitate, rather than punish the minor who commits a crime. In other words, the primary objective is to guide you back into behaving and living in a way that is socially and legally acceptable. Therefore, the law enforcement and juvenile justice people involved are allowed to be flexible in the decisions they make. For example, a police officer may decide that an act of delinquency is not serious enough to go to court. The officer may give you a warning instead of arresting you. However, the officers and the court must also consider public safety, and must work to prevent criminal behavior.
What will an officer do after arresting me?
An officer who arrests you and finds out that you are a juvenile has several options.
- The officer could release you with a warning or citation. A warning does not require you to do anything else. A citation may require you to either pay a fine or go to court to contest the fine. Citations are most common for minor violations, such as traffic offenses and littering.
- The officer could release you, but later file a petition for delinquency. If the court decides that there is enough evidence to support the petition, then you will have to go through formal or informal delinquency proceedings.
- The officer could take you into custody. The officer can later release you, but must notify the court and your parents or guardians if you are kept in custody for 12 hours or more. The court must hold a hearing within 48 hours after your arrest to decide whether there is probable cause to keep you in custody.
Do my parents have to know if I am arrested?
If you are arrested or adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent, your parents or guardians have the right to know about it. They will also be required to attend all court hearings with you. In some cases, the court may order your parents or guardians to assist in your disposition, probation, or rehabilitation. This can include financial support.
Why are some juveniles treated as adults in criminal proceedings?
Sometimes, juveniles are tried as adults. State law establishes the rules about when juveniles can be tried as adults.
You will be tried as an adult if you are 16 or older and you have been accused of one of the following serious crimes:
- any unclassified (the most serious kind) felony;
- a Class A felony against a person;
- a Class B felony against a person that involves a deadly weapon if you have committed this offense before;
- first degree arson;
- misconduct involving a weapon in the first degree.
You will always be tried as an adult for the following offenses:
- minor traffic offenses,
- offenses relating to tobacco possession or use,
- fish and game violations, and
- offenses related to parks and recreational facilities.
You may be tried as an adult if you are 16 or older and you have been accused of any felony against a person. This usually only happens if you have committed similar offenses before. You may be tried as an adult for some less serious offenses related to possessing or consuming alcohol, and for offenses related to city curfew violations.
You may be tried as an adult for any crime, if the court finds probable cause to believe that you committed the offense and that you are not amenable to treatment. Not amenable to treatment means that, in the court’s opinion, you probably cannot be rehabilitated by the time you turn 20 years old. The court will consider the seriousness of the charged offense, your history of delinquency, the probable causes of your delinquent behavior, and the facilities and programs available for rehabilitation.
Why would I be treated as a juvenile if I’ve already turned 18?
If you were less than 18 years old when you committed the offense, you may still go through juvenile delinquency proceedings, even though you have turned 18 since then. However, if you are adjudicated delinquent, you could be put in prison with adults instead of in a juvenile facility. If you are 18, your parents or guardians do not have the right to participate in the proceedings and you do not have the right to their financial support. Parents or guardians can attend hearings and assist you if they want to and you agree.
Informal juvenile proceedings
Why are some juvenile justice proceedings informal?
If you are arrested for a crime when you are under 18, you may be eligible for informal proceedings. If you are arrested or accused of an act of delinquency, you will be referred to the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). If you admit committing the offense, the DHHS may choose to handle your case informally without ever going to court. Another possibility, depending on the offense you are charged with, is that you could go through youth court where other teenagers are the lawyers and judges. See Section 7 of this Guide for more information about Youth Court.
What can happen in informal proceedings?
The DHSS could let you go with a warning, or could put you on informal probation. On informal probation, you could be subject to a curfew, or could be required to attend classes or participate in drug or alcohol assessments. You could be required to perform community service, or pay restitution. Restitution could mean paying for something you stole or vandalized, or for a victim’s hospital bills or injuries.
Your parents or guardians are usually responsible for helping you complete informal probation. Informal probation typically requires you to stay out of trouble at school and at home, so actions that may not be illegal (such as getting detention at school or being grounded by your parents) could be considered violations of informal probation. Your parents or guardians should discuss your informal probation requirements with you and with DHSS. You and any parents or guardians involved in the process should be sure you understand what DHSS expects while you are on probation.
Informal probation usually lasts 3-6 months, but it may be longer. If you complete all of your probation requirements and don’t get into trouble during your probationary period, your case will be over. DHSS will not file a formal delinquency petition in the court.
If I’m guilty, shouldn’t I just confess so I won’t have to go to court?
It depends. There are no guarantees that DHSS will give you a warning or informal probation just because you confess. DHSS will consider the seriousness of your offense, your history with the police, your record at school, your age, your attitude, and many other factors. If you admit to committing the offense, you could still go to court, and you may hurt your case by confessing. You should talk to your lawyer and your parents or guardians before you decide what to do. You can find more information about some consequences to think about at www.beforeyouplea.com/ak.
What happens if DHSS decides against informal proceedings for me?
If DHSS officials decide not to handle your case informally, they will refer it to the District Attorney (DA) to file a petition of delinquency. A petition of delinquency is a formal document filed in court. The petition identifies the offense you are accused of committing, and the evidence that makes police or investigators believe you committed that offense. If the judge agrees that there is probable cause to support the petition, then the judge will begin juvenile delinquency proceedings. Probable cause does not mean the judge thinks you are guilty, but only that, in the judge’s opinion, there is enough evidence to go forward with formal delinquency proceedings. Formal delinquency proceedings have three stages: pre-adjudication, adjudication, and disposition.
At any stage of juvenile delinquency proceedings, the court may issue orders about what you must do or not do. You should read these orders carefully and make sure to ask questions if you do not understand what they require you to do. It is very important to follow court orders because you could be charged with another offense if you violate them.
What happens in the pre-adjudication stage of formal delinquency proceedings?
The pre-adjudication phase includes court hearings or other processes that come before the court actually decides if you committed the offense. The pre-adjudication stage includes the arraignment, and can include a detention hearing, and one or more evidentiary or status hearings. You have many decisions to make in this stage.
What is an arraignment?
Your first appearance in court is called an arraignment or an initial hearing. At an arraignment, the judge will tell you what you are accused of, and explain your rights in court. The judge will then ask you whether you committed the offense. All you have to say is that you admit or you deny the charges against you. This is like pleading guilty or not guilty in adult court. Unless you have decided, with the help of a lawyer and your parents or guardians, to admit the charges, it is best to say “deny.” You can change your mind later. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will usually appoint one for you at the arraignment. If you can afford a lawyer but don’t have one yet, you can ask the court for a reasonable amount of time to find a lawyer before you decide anything.
What is a detention hearing?
If the police or DHSS keep you in custody after your arrest, you may have one or more detention hearings. These are similar to bail hearings for adults. At a detention hearing the judge will decide if you should stay confined until your adjudication. The judge will consider a number of facts and concerns, such as the seriousness of the offense you are accused of, whether keeping you confined is necessary to protect the victim or the public, and how likely it is that you will run away or not show up for your court hearings if you are released.
If the court decides to release you, you may be released to the custody of your parents or guardians. The court could also set conditions of release. These are extra rules that you have to follow when you are released. If you violate any of your conditions of release, you could be sent back to confinement or detention. Common conditions of release include requirements to:
- comply with a curfew;
- attend school and stay out of trouble there;
- stay away from drugs or alcohol; and
- be restricted to your house unless you have adult supervision.
What is an evidentiary hearing?
Another common type of court hearing is an evidentiary hearing. At this kind of hearing, your lawyer may argue that certain pieces of evidence should not be allowed when the prosecutor tries to prove you committed the offense. For example, if you think the police searched you illegally, there might be a hearing to decide whether evidence found in the search can be used at your adjudication. If you confessed because you think the police threatened you, the hearing might be about suppressing the confession.
Do I have choices in the pre-adjudication stage?
At this stage, you have many decisions to make, including:
- Do you want to admit that you committed the offense you are accused of?
- Do you want to accept a plea deal the prosecutor offers to reduce the charges against you to a less serious offense, or to recommend a lesser punishment if you admit that you committed the offense you are charged with?
- Do you want your case to be decided by a judge or a jury?
- What witnesses do you want to testify for you?
- Do you want to testify yourself? What will you say if you testify?
- Do you want your adjudication to be open to the public?
You should always talk to your lawyer and your parents or guardians to make sure you understand the consequences of each decision. Sometimes there are special court hearings about one or more of these issues.
There are also status hearings about routine things, such as whether the lawyers are ready and what date the adjudication will occur. You have a right to attend every court hearing about your case, but you may not have to be there if you don’t want to be. You should ask your lawyer what will happen at each hearing and whether you need to be there.
What legal rights do I have in the pre-adjudication phase?
The court should tell you your rights during arraignment. The most important rights you have at this stage of the proceeding are:
- The right to have a lawyer represent you in court;
- The right to have a lawyer appointed for you if you or your parents cannot afford one;
- The right not to incriminate yourself;
- The right to have the charges against you written down and explained. This includes the right to have enough time to prepare your defense to the charges after you know what they are.
What is the right against self-incrimination?
The right against self-incrimination is similar to the right to remain silent. It means you do not have to talk about what happened. The exception is that you must answer whether you admit or deny the charges against you. Your lawyer cannot answer that question for you. You may also be required to answer “yes” or “no” when the judge asks you whether you understand your rights.
What if I don’t want a lawyer?
You have the right to refuse a lawyer and represent yourself, but the court will consider carefully whether your decision is voluntary and intelligent. This means that nobody has forced you to make the decision and that you understand the consequences of not having a lawyer. If you are less than 16 years old, you must at least talk with a lawyer before deciding to represent yourself.
Guardians ad litem
What is a guardian ad litem?
A guardian ad litem (often known as a “GAL”) is a person the court may appoint to speak for your best interests during a court case. In juvenile proceedings, the court might decide to appoint a GAL at one of the pre-adjudication hearings. The GAL may be a lawyer, but has a different job than a lawyer hired or appointed to represent you. A lawyer who represents you will argue for you in court and advise you on the law, but will not make big decisions for you (for example, whether to confess or whether to testify). The GAL has the power to make decisions for you. A GAL may be appointed for you when the court finds that neither you nor your parents or regular guardians are capable of making decisions in your best interests. The court will consider your age, intelligence, mental health, the capabilities of your parents or guardians, and any other factors. Having a GAL does not mean the court thinks you are unintelligent or immature. It may mean that the court thinks that getting advice from someone who is not your parent or regular guardian would be helpful to you. If you have a GAL, you should discuss any decisions with him or her and try to reach agreement as best you can. Remember that the GAL is doing what he or she thinks is best for you. For more information about GALs, see Section 5 of this Guide.
What happens in the adjudication phase of formal delinquency proceedings?
Adjudication is similar to a criminal trial for adults. In an adult trial, the judge or jury decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty. In adjudication, the judge or jury will decide whether you are delinquent or not delinquent. At the adjudication, a prosecutor, also known as the District Attorney (DA) will try to prove that you committed the offense you are charged with. Any victim of the offense also has a right to testify; that is, to tell their story in court. But you should know that the prosecutor represents the state, not the victims, so they do not tell the DA what to do.
Do I get to have a jury decide my case?
You can request a jury, but most adjudication occurs in front of a judge or a master. A master is an expert in juvenile delinquency issues, who carries out the same tasks that a judge would do during adjudication. The only difference is that, at the end of adjudication, a judge must approve recommendations of the master before they are final.
What does “presumption of innocence” mean?
During adjudication, the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed an act of delinquency. The presumption of innocence means that you come into court with a blank slate. The DA must start from the beginning and present evidence that proves you committed the offense. The fact that you are accused of something, or that the police have investigated you does not prove you are guilty. If the DA does not have enough evidence to prove that you committed the crime, you do not have to present any evidence at all. Of course, you also have the right to present evidence that supports your defense. In most cases, you will present evidence in your own defense.
What legal rights do I have during adjudication?
In addition to the rights you have in pre-adjudication, you have the right to confront the witnesses against you. This means that everyone who has something to say about you or your case must testify under oath in open court. You have a right to ask those witnesses questions that may show they are mistaken or untruthful in their testimony. This is called cross-examination. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will cross-examine the witnesses who testify against you.
Do I have to testify?
You also have the right to testify on your own behalf or not to testify. You can tell your story if you choose. Or you can remain silent and not incriminate yourself if you choose. The fact that you choose not to testify cannot be held against you. In other words, your silence is not evidence that you are guilty. You should talk to your lawyer about what might happen if you testify or don’t testify. Your lawyer can give you advice about what you should do, but your lawyer cannot make the decision for you. It is your decision alone.
Is my juvenile delinquency adjudication open to the public? Who can come?
Unless the court orders otherwise, the following people have a right to attend your adjudication hearing: DHSS representatives, your parents or guardians, your guardian ad litem, if you have one, and the victims of the alleged offense. The rules on whether the hearing is open to the public are complicated. Generally, juvenile delinquency proceedings are closed to the public, but either you or the DA can ask the court to open the hearing. The judge will decide whether to allow this. Some delinquency adjudications (usually ones concerning serious felonies) must be open to the public. If you have any questions about who can attend your hearings, you should ask your lawyer or the judge.
What happens in the disposition phase of formal delinquency proceedings?
If you are found not to be delinquent, then you must be released right away, and your case is over. If you are found to be delinquent, then the court will have a disposition hearing. At the disposition hearing, the judge decides the consequences for you for committing an act of delinquency. You do not have the right to ask for a jury during disposition.
When does the disposition happen?
If you are found delinquent for a minor offense when confinement is not being considered, the judge may hold a disposition hearing right after the adjudication. But usually the court will wait for DHSS to prepare a predisposition report, which may take several months. DHSS will collect information about you and the community where the offense occurred, and will interview you, your family and friends, your teachers, your doctors, any victims of your offense, and any others who may have knowledge about how best to treat you. Using the research and interviews, DHSS will then recommend a treatment plan for you. The judge will consider this report seriously, but does not have to follow it. You can present evidence against the report if you want to. At the disposition hearing, the judge will consider your evidence, the evidence in the report, and possibly other evidence from the state.
Will I be confined between adjudication and disposition?
During the time between adjudication and disposition, the judge may confine you to a juvenile facility or release you with conditions. The judge will consider many of the same factors considered in a detention hearing before your adjudication. It is more likely that you will be confined at this stage, because you have been found delinquent. You will normally get credit for any time spent in confinement during this period. For example, if you spent three months in a detention facility before the disposition hearing, and then the court orders one year of detention, you would only have nine months of detention left.
What consequences can be imposed on me if I am found delinquent?
The judge has flexibility to decide what is most likely to rehabilitate you. Some options that a judge may consider at a disposition hearing include the following:
- community service,
- detention in a juvenile facility,
- juvenile work camp,
- participation in an adventure-based education program,
- attendance at a correctional school,
- drug or alcohol treatment, or
- confiscation of your driver’s license.
If the judge decides you should be committed to custody, you will be confined in some way. Usually the confinement is in a residential facility for juvenile delinquents, but it could also be in a treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse or psychiatric problems. DHSS may transfer you between facilities whenever they believe it is in your best interests. They are required to notify your lawyer and your parents or guardians whenever they move you. The judge cannot order you confined with adult prisoners, except for a short time in rare emergency situations. In areas where there are no facilities available specifically for juveniles, the court can order you confined to an adult facility, but juveniles must be in a section separate from adult prisoners.
If you are given probation, the court will decide who will supervise your probation. It may be your parents or guardians, a foster parent, or DHSS.
How long can my treatment plan last?
The time limit for any treatment plan is two years or until you turn 19, whichever happens first. Supervision can be extended for up to two more years, as long as it ends before you turn 19. If it is in your best interests and you agree to it, the court can extend the period of supervision up to age 20.
What happens if I don’t follow the plan?
Whatever the court decides, you must follow the treatment plan carefully. If you violate any of the court orders, you could get a more restrictive treatment plan. For example, if the judge releases you on probation with a curfew, and you violate that curfew, you could be confined in an institution. If you are confined in a residential treatment facility, it is important to understand the rules of that facility, because violating the rules means you could be charged with a new act of delinquency. In serious cases of not cooperating with the treatment plan, the court could decide you are not amenable to treatment and try you as an adult, with the result that you might end up in an adult prison for many more years.
Will I have a criminal conviction on my record if I am adjudicated delinquent?
No. A finding of delinquency is not the same as a conviction. For example, a juvenile record does not count as a past conviction for an adult crime that is a felony when the person charged has a past conviction. If a job or college application asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you can answer “no.” This is also true for private employer and landlord background checks. However, some government entities, such as law enforcement agencies and the military, do have access to juvenile records. Therefore, if you commit a crime as an adult, the court can consider your juvenile record in deciding how long to sentence you to prison. If you have any questions about whether you are required to disclose a juvenile record on a government application or form, you should ask a lawyer for advice.
Will my delinquency record be public?
Juvenile delinquency records are confidential; only people with a legitimate interest can view them. This can include court personnel, parents or guardians, potential foster parents, and the victims of the delinquent act. Just before you turn 18, the records are sealed and may only be viewed in extremely limited circumstances. Evidence and testimony from your juvenile delinquency adjudication cannot be used in any other court case. The fact that you have a juvenile record can’t be used to impeach your testimony in another court case.
Will my case be reported in the news?
In most delinquency cases, your name and picture and your parents' or guardians' names cannot be published in the newspaper or the internet, or mentioned on the TV or radio.
This rule is one of the differences between juvenile proceedings and adult criminal or minor offense proceedings. When you are tried as an adult, the records are open to the public, so traffic offenses or fish and game violations are not confidential or sealed.
Do I have the right to an appeal?
You have the right to appeal the adjudication result, the disposition result, or both. This is not mandatory; it is up to you to choose whether to appeal. An appeal is heard by three different judges --not the one who conducted your adjudication. An appeal is limited to what already happened at your adjudication or disposition hearing. You can argue that errors were made, that the evidence was not sufficient, or that your constitutional rights were violated. Appeals are complicated and can take a long time. You should talk to your lawyer, who can tell you whether or not you are likely to succeed in an appeal. You can find more information about appeals in Section 7 of this Guide.
Do I have the right to a review?
In all juvenile delinquency cases where the treatment plan lasts one year or more, the same judge who handled your adjudication and disposition must review the treatment plan every year. This yearly review is mandatory. At other times, you, your lawyer, or your parents or guardians can request a review for good cause. At a review hearing, the judge will look at how the rehabilitation is going and consider whether the treatment plan should be adjusted or changed. A review can be broad and flexible, and the judge can consider new facts and new evidence. If you are doing really well, the judge may even decide you have been rehabilitated and release you early.
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Adult criminal proceedings
How are criminal proceedings for adults different from juvenile proceedings?
The main differences are that juvenile proceedings are more flexible, involve your parents and other people, don’t occur in public, and are aimed primarily at rehabilitation or treatment. In adult court, criminal proceedings include pre-trial proceedings, the trial, and sentencing. Everything is public, your parents do not have a right to be involved, and the goals of sentencing include punishment and protection of the public as well as rehabilitation.
When am I subject to adult court proceedings instead of juvenile proceedings?
The general rule is that you become an adult for purposes of any criminal proceedings when you turn 18. Even before you turn 18, you can be charged in adult court for certain serious crimes, or crimes connected with certain “adult” activities, such as driving offenses, fish and game offenses, and alcohol-related offenses.
What happens at an arraignment or initial appearance?
At your first court appearance several things may happen.
If the officer who arrested you did not have an arrest warrant at the time of the arrest, the judge must first determine if there was probable cause to arrest. The arresting officer must make a record of the reasons for the arrest either in a written complaint or in an oral statement under oath. The judge will examine the stated reasons to be sure your arrest was justified.
Next the judge will explain the charges against you as well as your right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney. If you don’t already have an attorney and you believe you cannot afford one, the judge will ask you to answer financial questions. If the judge decides you cannot afford to pay an attorney, the judge will appoint a public defender to represent you.
You may also be required to enter a plea at your initial appearance. This is more likely to happen if you are charged with a misdemeanor. If you have been charged with a felony but the prosecutors have not yet obtained an indictment against you, the judge will not make you enter a plea at your initial appearance. Instead, the judge will explain your right to a preliminary hearing, and will give you a chance to talk with your attorney. You will enter a plea at a later hearing.
What does “enter a plea” mean?
When the judge asks how you plead, you may say “not guilty,” “guilty,” or “no contest.” If you plead “not guilty,” the judge will set a trial date. If you plead “guilty” or “no contest,” the judge will make sure you understand that you are waiving your right to a jury trial and your right to confront the witnesses against you. The judge will ask you questions to make sure that you do understand what your plea means, and that you are freely choosing to enter that plea. If you plead “guilty” or “no contest,” the court may sentence you immediately, or may schedule your sentencing at a later date.
Can I be released from jail until the trial?
At your first hearing, the court may determine if you can be released from custody until the trial. For a less serious crime, the judge might simply release you from custody with directions to appear in court for all scheduled hearings, obey all laws, and maintain contact with your lawyer. The judge can also release you subject to conditions such as home confinement during certain hours, or a third-party custodian who is obligated to watch over you while you are waiting for trial. The judge may also require you to post bail or a bond. This means you must give or promise to give money or property to the court to guarantee that you will show up at your scheduled court hearings.
What is a preliminary hearing?
If prosecutors have not obtained an indictment against you within 10 days if you are in custody, or 20 days if you are released subject to conditions until trial, then they must schedule a preliminary hearing. An indictment is a grand jury’s determination that there is probably cause, or enough evidence against you for the case to continue. When there is no indictment, a judge determines at a preliminary hearing whether there is enough reason to keep you in custody or continue the conditions of your release until trial. You have a right to have your attorney at a preliminary hearing.
If the prosecutors show probable cause to believe that you committed the crime you are charged with, the judge will allow the case against you to go forward. If the prosecutors fail to establish probable cause, then you must be released from custody or from any bail requirements or other conditions of release. But even if you are released after a preliminary hearing, the prosecutors could still obtain an indictment against you and arrest you again.
What is a plea agreement?
Your attorney can learn what evidence the prosecutors have against you through a process called discovery. After you and your attorney review the evidence against you, you may decide to enter into a formal agreement called a plea agreement or a plea bargain with the prosecutors. A plea agreement will require you to change your plea to “guilty.” In a plea agreement, the prosecutor may reduce the charge against you to a lesser charge, and agree to recommend a shorter sentence, or other lesser punishment than you might receive if convicted after a trial. The judge has the final word on whether or not to accept the agreement.
How do I prepare for trial?
Your attorney may file pretrial motions that challenge the indictment or ask to suppress certain evidence that may have been obtained illegally.
What happens during trial?
When it is time for trial, the prosecutor and your lawyer will select a jury. In jury selection, both the prosecutor and your lawyer will have an opportunity to challenge some prospective jurors, who seem likely to have biases or unfavorable opinions. After the jury is selected, the lawyers will begin the trial by summarizing their cases. Then the prosecutors will present their evidence against you by calling witnesses and offering exhibits like photos, documents and objects. You or your lawyer can cross-examine the witnesses against you. After the prosecutors finish presenting the case against you, you can present evidence in your defense. You have the right to testify during your trial, but you do not have to do so. After the jury hears all the witnesses and evidence, the lawyers give closing arguments. Then the jury will deliberate and issue its verdict. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing at a later date. At the sentencing hearing, the judge will decide your sentence based on specific sentencing laws.
What penalties can be imposed for committing a crime?
In addition to or instead of imposing jail time, the judge can order you to do one or more of the following: pay a fine, perform community work service, participate in programs like alcohol counseling, anger management counseling, or batterers’ accountability programs. The judge can also order payment of restitution, jail costs, and surcharges.
How does the judge decide what the sentence will be?
The judge must base your sentence on a number of sentencing factors that are spelled out in Alaska Statutes. Put in simple language, these factors include
the seriousness of the offense;
- your criminal history;
- how likely it is you can be rehabilitated;
- the circumstances of the offense;
- the harm the victim suffered;
- the danger to public safety or order;
- what punishment should be imposed to deter you and others from committing like offenses;
- what punishment should be imposed to express the community’s condemnation of the criminal act; and
- what punishment should be imposed to restore the victim and the community.
You can read the precise language of the sentencing factors in Alaska Statutes at AS 12.55.005.
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Reentry: getting help after a prison sentence
If I serve time in prison, is there any help available when I get out?
The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) has a number of programs and services to help you get back on your feet and live successfully in the community after release from prison. Some of the programs and services designed to help you succeed after a prison term begin while you are still behind bars. Some programs are available after your release.
What assistance programs are available before I am released from prison?
Before you are released from one of the DOC prisons, you will be tested to determine your risks and needs, and a plan will be prepared for you. Your plan may include referrals to services that deal with mental health, substance abuse, anger management, education, criminal thinking, and job goals.
Can you give me an example?
One specific program is the Alaska Reentry Course developed by the DOC to improve a prisoner’s readiness for release. If you are ready for release, this course helps you with four main goals:
- Finding safe and appropriate housing;
- Finding a job;
- Building healthy relationships with family and acquaintances; and
- Getting help to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.
This course also includes helping eligible prisoners
- get identification cards, birth certificates, social security cards and other important documents;
- learn how to find housing and understand lease agreements;
- understand and develop personal budgets, and pay bills;
- learn how to search for a job, fill out job applications, write resumes, and prepare for job interviews.
The DOC also works to develop an Individualized Reentry Plan (IRP) for all high-risk felony offenders. The IRP includes a summary of program and service needs that include appropriate referrals in the key areas of housing, employment, education, and medical and social support.
Is any help available for me after release?
Specialized services the DOC provides to people being released from prison include:
- IDP: a program that works directly with felony prisoners with a psychotic disorder who are being released;
- APIC: a program that links individuals to community mental health treatment services, including medication, to which they are entitled;
- Substance abuse treatment and aftercare.
The DOC has also developed partnerships with several community organizations to focus on services after release. Services include:
- Probation violation and re-offense prevention;
- Mental health and substance abuse treatment;
- Guidance counseling.
These community partners are listed below:
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If you are a victim of a crime
If you are the victim of a crime, you have some specific rights immediately after a crime has been committed. You are entitled to:
- Receive immediate medical assistance;
- Receive transportation to a safe house or shelter;
- Apply for a 72-hour domestic violence protective order;
- Be notified of and allowed to go to the defendant’s arraignment or initial appearance before a magistrate or judge when the defendant's bail conditions are set.
- Be informed about the Alaska Office of Victims' Rights (OVR), an agency that helps victims of crime with their legal rights and their contacts with prosecutors and criminal justice agencies. The OVR serves as an advocate for victims both in court, and in situations where the victim believes criminal justice agencies have violated his or her rights. View more information about this agency.
In addition to the immediate help you should receive as a victim of a crime, you also have certain rights throughout the legal proceedings against a person accused of committing the crime against you. You are entitled to:
- Be treated with dignity, respect and fairness;
- Be protected from the defendant; for your protection, the court should set appropriate bail or conditions of release for the period of time after the arrest or summons until the end of the trial or the case, and for any period when a convicted defendant is released pending appeal;
- Be allowed to speak with the prosecution;
- Be informed promptly of what has happened in a case after an arrest;
- Be informed about, and allowed to attend, all criminal or juvenile proceedings where the defendant has a right to be present; and
- Receive restitution from a defendant who is found guilty.
Each District Attorney’s Office and each municipal prosecutor’s office has coordinators specially trained to work with victims during a prosecution. The coordinator can help you report a crime and ask police to help stop anyone who is abusing, harassing, or trying to intimidate you. The coordinator can answer your questions about the criminal justice system and your case, and help you in court. The coordinator can give you information about violent crimes compensation, restitution, return of property, problems with your employer, witness fees, and with travel and hotels if you come from out-of-town. The coordinator can tell you about agencies that can provide shelter and services for your legal, medical, social, and mental health needs. Your contact in the district attorney's office can tell you how to exercise your right to be interviewed for the presentence report, and how to be heard at the defendant's sentencing. If you need an interpreter, the district attorney's office will provide one at no cost to you.
Where can I get more information about help available for victims of crimes?
The Alaska Judicial Council has produced a helpful brochure for victims: A Handbook for Victims of Crime in Alaska. This handbook describes what happens after a crime occurs, and after conviction. It has an extensive directory of victim services available in Alaska communities at the time of publication.
Information to help crime victims is also available in a number of languages through the Department of Law.
Information on victim services provided by the Department of Corrections, including how you can be notified of the pending release of the defendant in your case through their automated victim notification system, VINE. View more information.
Some additional links to resources for victims are listed below:
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If you witness a crime
If you are a witness to a crime, the police may ask you questions about what happened. You do not have to give a statement to the police. You should be polite and identify yourself, but you can decline to make a statement.
You may also be ordered to come to court to testify by a written order called a subpoena. If you receive a subpoena, you must come to court at the time and place identified in the subpoena. In court, you will be asked to swear or affirm that what you say is true. This is also called testifying under oath. It is important to know that if you testify under oath, you must not lie. Making a false sworn statement that you do not believe to be true is a crime called perjury, a class B felony.
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Behaviors that are crimes
A few of the crimes that young people are often involved with are described below in this section. Some other crimes, including sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, misconduct involving a controlled substance, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) are covered in section 2 of this guide.
Shoplifting and theft
What is shoplifting?
Shoplifting means taking any item from a story or business by concealing it so that you obtain it for yourself or for someone else without paying for it. In Alaska’s criminal law, shoplifting is a theft, which may also be called larceny. Theft can also be committed by obtaining services without paying for them. A theft under this law can be in the first, second, third, or fourth degree, depending on the value of the stolen goods and certain other facts, such as whether the shoplifter has previous convictions for similar actions, and what kind of things are stolen.
What is the punishment for shoplifting?
Shoplifting is often a misdemeanor, which is a less serious crime than a felony. But even when shoplifting is a misdemeanor, the maximum penalties allowed under the law are substantial. The penalties for felonies are greater. The chart below shows the crime that may be charged and the maximum penalty based on the value of the stolen property. Maximum penalties will probably not be imposed for a first offense, but repeat offenses will be punished more severely. The punishment may also be greater for certain items such as a firearm, a vehicle, survival equipment, or a credit card, regardless of the value.
What will happen if I am arrested for shoplifting?
If you are a minor (under 18), and you are arrested for shoplifting, you may be offered an opportunity to go through Youth Court, discussed in Section 7 of this Guide. You might be sentenced to perform a certain number of community service hours, or to take an anti-shoplifting class where you will learn about property crimes and their negative impact on society.
Leash Law violations
What is a leash law?
Local laws, such as those in Anchorage and Juneau, may require you to keep your pet on a leash. Anchorage municipal law requires you to restrain your dog in public places unless you are in a designated off-lease dog park. Fines for violations can range in from $75 to $150 in Anchorage, and from $20 to $100 in Juneau.
Vandalism and Graffiti
What is vandalism?
Vandalism, sometimes referred to as criminal mischief, includes reckless or intentional action that harms or destroys another person’s property. One specific kind of vandalism is marking any public or private property with graffiti. Graffiti usually means spray- painting words or pictures on property without permission of the owner. Even if you think graffiti is “art,” or you think it looks better than a plain wall, you can be subject to penalties and responsibility for removing the graffiti. If you are a minor, your parents may also be responsible. In Anchorage, the penalty for a first graffiti offense is $500; the penalty for second and subsequent offenses is $1,000. Penalties collected are deposited into an anti-graffiti fund that is used for rewards to persons who provide information that leads to the actual payment of a fine.
What is a curfew?
A curfew is a law that prohibits people from being in public places during certain hours, generally late at night. In Alaska, state law allows each municipality to establish its own curfew law for minors (those under the age of 18), and sets a maximum fine of $250 for an offense.
Anchorage, for example, has adopted a curfew law that makes it an offense for a person under the age of 17 years to be in a public place during curfew hours, and for the owner of an establishment to allow a minor to remain there during curfew hours. The curfew hours are 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends and each night from June through August. For the rest of the year, the curfew hours each night other than Friday and Saturday are 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Exceptions in the law include under 17 year olds who have parental consent, who are directly on their way to work, or who are married or emancipated.
Your town or village may have different curfew rules than Anchorage, so be sure to check the rules for your own community.
What is disorderly conduct?
Disorderly Conduct can be committed by several different kinds of conduct that intentionally disturb or create a hazard to others. You could be charged with disorderly conduct for actions including
- disturbing others by making unreasonably loud noise if you intend to disturb others, or if you continue after being told that you are disturbing others;
- refusing to comply with a lawful order of a peace officer to disperse;
- challenging another person to fight or fighting when not in self-defense;
- recklessly creating a hazardous condition for others by an act which has no legal justification or excuse; or
- “mooning” another person, or similar offensive act.
What is assault?
Generally, assault is a crime that involves causing physical injury or threatening to cause injury to a person. Alaska law defines 3 different degrees of assault, ranging from a Class B felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The seriousness of the assault charge can depend on whether the assault is intentional, reckless, or criminally negligent; whether a dangerous instrument is used in the assault; whether a child is injured; and whether the assault involves repeated acts.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
What is driving under the influence?
You probably know that you can be arrested for driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. But there is more! You can also be charged with DUI if you are operating a boat or an aircraft while under the influence of an inhalant (“huffing”) or controlled substance (roughly, any illegal drug or a legal drug taken without a prescription). Furthermore, even if you do not feel impaired, you can be guilty of this crime if your blood alcohol measures more than .08 percent (80 milligrams or more of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, or .08 grams or more of alcohol per 210 liters of breath). You should also know that you are considered to be “operating a vehicle” if you are in control of the vehicle, even if you are not driving it. For example, you could be convicted of this crime if you are sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys between the seats. You can read more about DUI and other alcohol-related crimes in Section 2 of this Guide.
Breath Test Refusal
Do I have to give a breath test if a police officer arrests me for DUI?
Yes. If you are lawfully arrested for DUI and you refuse to give a breath test, you can be charged with breath test refusal. Breath test refusal carries the same penalties as a DUI. In fact, you can be convicted of both DUI and refusal from the same incident.
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