Juvenile delinquency cases are essentially criminal cases against minors in Juvenile Court.  In most instances, where a minor is accused of engaging in criminal conduct before his 18th birthday, he is charged as a juvenile delinquent.  The minimum age to be charged in Massachusetts is 12.  In Massachusetts, accused juvenile delinquents have all of the same due process rights as charged adults, including the right to a trial by jury.  The maximum punishment for a juvenile delinquency matter is commitment to the Department of Youth Services (DYS).

A clerk magistrate’s hearing is a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not an accused juvenile will have a delinquency complaint issue against him and be scheduled to appear for arraignment for formal prosecution.  Normally a police officer files the complaint and related police report with the court, and the court schedules the hearing.  A person other than a police officer may also file a complaint.  At the hearing, which is less formal than an arraignment, the police officer (or other complainant) explains why the accused young person should be charged.  The young person has a right to be heard but also has a Fifth Amendment right not to answer any questions.  The clerk magistrate must determine whether there is probable cause to support one or more charges and therefore issue the complaint.

In Massachusetts, parents and schools may file a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) petition in Juvenile Court against a child for certain status offenses.  Parents may seek assistance for stubborn or runaway children.  Schools may seek assistance for truants or habitual school offenders.  CRA cases may stay open for informal assistance or become more formal with active monitoring by the court.  If the child is adjudicated a child requiring assistance, the judge can place the child in the temporary custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), in which case DCF decides where the child lives, though that cannot be at home if the judge issues an out-of-home placement order.