Family Court

Bessemer Division

What is Family Court?

The Family Court of the Bessemer Division of Jefferson County is the court responsible for handling all delinquency, dependency, child in need of supervision cases and certain adult cases that occur in the Bessemer Division of Jefferson County. Family Court, also called Juvenile Court, has exclusive, original jurisdiction over these cases and no other court may hear them. Family Court in the Bessemer Division is a District Court.

What is the role District Attorney’s Office in Family Court?

The District Attorney may exercise authority in all delinquency, child in need of supervision, and adult criminal cases arising in juvenile court. The DA’s Office will represent the interests of the State in these cases. Representation by the DA’s Office includes prosecution of cases, disposition (sentencing) of cases, requesting/collection of restitution, and case reviews. The DA also may be called upon by Family Court to assist the court in other proceedings under the Alabama Juvenile Justice Act, such as dependency and juvenile mental health commitment cases.

What are Victim Service Officers?

The DA’s Office provides Victim Service Officers (VSO’s) to guide victims through the Family Court process. VSO’s are available to assist victims of delinquent acts with information about the court system, information about specific cases, and information about counseling and other services. VSO’s also serve as a line of communication between the DA’s Office and the public.

Can a person under the age of 18 be prosecuted in adult court?

Certain criminal acts committed by persons that are 16 or 17 years of age are not considered delinquent acts and must be prosecuted in adult court. A non-felony driving offense committed by persons under 16, except DUI, is not considered to be a delinquent offense. A capital offense, a class A felony, a felony committed with the use of a deadly weapon, a felony that results in death or serious physical injury, a felony committed against certain officials and drug trafficking committed by a person who is 16 or 17 years old is not a delinquent act, but are offenses heard in adult criminal court.

Some delinquent cases committed by persons 15 years of age or older may be transferred to adult court for prosecution. The District Attorney will file a motion to transfer the case to adult court. The court will then conduct a two-part hearing to determine if the person should be transferred to adult court for prosecution.

What is a Status Offense?

Status offenders are individuals who commit an offense established by law, but not classified as criminal or conduct that would not be considered criminal if committed by an adult. Status offenses include but are not limited to: Municipal curfew violations applicable only to children. (§12-15-201(b)), Possession and consumption of alcohol, DUI for .02% BAC pursuant to §32-5A-191(b). It changes the nature of these offenses from a delinquent charge to a CHINS charge. With very limited exceptions, status offenders may not be detained or placed in lockdown facilities by the court. 

Are there some adult criminal cases that are heard in Family Court?

Yes. The juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses committed by persons 18 years of age or older. (§12-15-116) These charges must be filed with the magistrate and heard by Family Court. Some of the offenses include delinquency of a minor, child in need of supervision, or dependency of a child and others.

What is a Child in Need of Supervision?

A child in need of supervision (CHINS) is a child that is truant from school, is beyond the control of his or her parent or custodian or is a runaway. 

A truant is a child who is subject to the requirement of the Alabama Compulsory School Attendance Act and is habitually truant from school as defined by the State Board of Education in the Alabama Administrative Code. The current State Board of Education definition of habitual truancy is 7 unexcused absences over a full school year. Local boards can make policy stricter.

A child that is beyond control is a child that disobeys the reasonable and lawful demands of his or her parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian.

A Runaway is a child that leaves, or remains away from the home without the permission of the parent, legal guardian, legal custodian, or person with whom he or she resides.

What is a delinquency charge?

A delinquent act is an act that is criminal in nature committed by a person under the age of 18. A delinquent act may be a felony, misdemeanor or violation pursuant to a municipal code, county, state, or federal law. The jurisdiction of juvenile court begins in the venue where the act is committed.

How is a delinquency charge filed?

A juvenile delinquency charge must be brought by complaint with the Juvenile Intake Officer. Any person 18 years of age or older with knowledge of the facts or who is informed of the facts and believes them to be true may bring a delinquency complaint. The person filing the complaint may be a police officer or a member of the public. 

The Intake Officer will make a finding that the court has jurisdiction over the person who committed the crime as well as and jurisdiction over the crime. The Intake Officer will determine whether there is probable cause that a delinquent act occurred and that the person being charged most likely committed it. Finally, the Intake Officer must find that filing the complaint is in the best interest of the juvenile or the public. The Intake Officer must make the aforementioned determinations before the complaint may be filed.

The complaint must be brought within the applicable statute of limitations. Felonies must be filed within 5 years of the delinquent act. Misdemeanors and violations must be brought within 12 months of the act. Some crimes have no statute of limitations and may be brought anytime.

Once a complaint is filed, it may be handled informally with the magistrate or referred to court. Filing the petition begins the official court process.

Once a petition is filed, a court date will be set in Family Court. The child will be served a copy of the petition and summoned to appear in court. An Assistant DA will be assigned to handle the case on behalf of the State. A defense attorney for the child may be appointed by the court or retained by the child.

A child that is referred to court will have their case heard by the Family Court Judge or Referee. The case will be adjudicated by a plea or trial/hearing pursuant to Alabama rules of evidence and due process. The child’s case will then have a disposition (or sentencing) according the needs of the child, the safety and protection of the community, and making the victim as whole as possible. Dispositions include probation, boot camp, commitments to the Alabama Department of Youth Services and restitution.