If adults will care to rember they too were young once, they will find it easier to forgive children’s mistakes.
In the Dutch criminal justice system minors of twelve to eighteen years are subject to juvenile criminal law. Younger children who commit any offence can as a matter of law not be prosecuted. They may however be detained by the police, be frisked (to have body and clothing examined) and be taken to the police station for questioning.
As a matter of policy young first time offenders are preferably redirected to HALT-bureaus. The young suspect, though in practice usually his attorney, will have to agree with this redirection. The minor is than is invited for a conversation with a Assistant Prosecutor and an official of the Council for Child protection. The purpose of the HALT session is to keep the young offender outside the criminal justice system as much as possible. As a rule HALT punishments combine community service with a letter of apology to the victim and/or the (partial) compensation of the damage caused by the offence. The great advantage of HALT is that the younger does not get a criminal record, to get because the case is dealt with outside the regulated criminal justice system.
The minor who does not (fully) comply with the HALT-conditions, is a repeat offender or commits especially heinous crimes will (again) be brought before Juvenile Court. In cases where there is no possibility for a HALT-measure the Council for child protection advices on a punishment, which advice the juvenile court judge adhere to as much as possible and considered just. There are also separate regulations regarding of young suspects who – with or without electronic surveillance – in principle can serve the remand at home with their parents or guardians. Also, according to jurisprudence, a minor cannot waive his right of representation and the presence of an attorney before and during interrogation. A minor is also without exception assigned an attorney to defend him or her in court.
A juvenile court judge can impose a maximum custodial sentence of one year on minors in the age from twelve to sixteen years, and one of no more than two years on minors up to eighteen years (with the exception of imposition of a PIJ-measure, simply put a mental institution for criminal minors). In highly exceptional cases a minor can be prosecuted and, if convicted, be punished as an adult. Unlike with criminal proceedings against adult suspects, trials in juvenile court, as a rule, are not open to the public, but take place behind closed doors.
Because the criminal justice system can be very intimidating – especially for (young) children – it is of cardinal importance they receive legal assistance at the earliest possible stage of any criminal investigation from an experienced juvenile criminal justice lawyer, where possible to have the criminal case dismissed altogether and to provide the best legal advice, assistance and protection where needed.