Juvenile law applies to young children and teenagers–defined as anyone less than eighteen years old in New Mexico. Minors accused of breaking the law are considered juvenile delinquents and may have to answer to a petition filed in the children’s court division. In Santa Fe one judge handles most of these cases but in smaller jurisdictions the same judge handles adult and juvenile cases.
The juvenile system is completely separate from the one used for adults, and the penalties involved are usually far less severe than in the adult system. Typically the most severe punishments, such as adult sanctions or custody for two years with the CYFD department in Albuquerque, are reserved for violent or repeat offenders.
Juvenile law also carries certain protections that do not apply to adults; for example, names are kept confidential and parents can be present during police questioning. A lawyer who specializes in juvenile law will help minors understand the juvenile justice system and present their defense in juvenile court.