Need Help With a Legal Issue? Contact Us Today For Superior Legal Representation.

Photo of Professionals at Dearie, Fischer & Martinson LLC

What is the Difference Between a Juvenile Adjudication and a Criminal Conviction

At Dearie, Fischer, and Martinson, we have handled thousands of juvenile court cases over the last twenty years.  Most people know what it means to be convicted of a criminal offense as an adult, but things are a little bit different for juveniles.  If your child is facing a juvenile delinquency case, or if you are just seeking information on the Ohio juvenile court system, this article may be helpful to you as we will discuss the difference between a criminal conviction (adult) and an adjudication of delinquency (juvenile). For a broader exploration of the many differences between adult and juvenile court, consider reading our recent article on juvenile law, Differences between Juvenile Court and Adult Court.


Juvenile Court in Ohio

In Ohio, a juvenile is someone under the age of 18 years old.  With some narrow exceptions, juveniles are not brought to an adult criminal court when they are accused of breaking the law.  We discuss the exceptions in our article, “When Can a Juvenile be Tried as an Adult in Ohio,” but here we discuss how juvenile court normally works.

As we mention in the previous article, juvenile delinquency cases are civil in nature, instead of criminal. For adults, civil cases are normally used to take care of law suits, divorces, protection orders, wills and things of that nature.  In order to prosecute adult criminal offenses, the case must be handled in criminal court.

Juvenile court is slightly different.  When juveniles are prosecuted, the case is still considered a civil case.  They are a special kind of civil cases with their own system for deciding cases.  The system used to handle alleged juvenile offenders mirrors the criminal justice system, and many people think the consequences of a criminal conviction are the same as a juvenile delinquency adjudication.  However, there are a few differences.

Juvenile Delinquency Adjudication

While adult criminal court uses the terms like “found guilty” or “found not guilty” the juvenile court system uses the term adjudication.  Juveniles are adjudicated either delinquent or not delinquent.  Being adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile mirrors being found guilty as an adult, and the two concepts have similarities and differences.

As we said before, a juvenile adjudication is the conclusion of a civil case and not a criminal one.  Technically, a juvenile with a record of delinquency does not have a criminal record.  Much like a criminal record, having delinquencies on your record will often make it more difficult to get a favorable adjudication in future cases.  The record of delinquency can also hurt prospects of getting jobs, being accepted into colleges, or enrolling in certain school systems.  After all, juveniles are adjudicated delinquent for committing the same types of acts that result in criminal convictions for adults.

Expungement of Juvenile Records

When it comes to expungement in Ohio, there are two major differences between criminal convictions and Juvenile Adjudications.

  • Automatic Expungement – Most delinquency records are automatically expunged when the offender turns 18.  Adults normally have to qualify as an eligible offender and go through the application process for the hope of getting their record sealed.
  • True expungement – Although the terms “expungement” and “sealing of record” are often used interchangeably, most adult records cannot be truly expunged.  With the proper approval, adult records are simply sealed from public view and the offender is allowed to say that their record is clean.  “Expunged” technically means the record is destroyed, which happens to juvenile records much more often than adult records.


While there are differences between delinquency adjudications and criminal convictions, it is best to avoid both of them.  Even if you are facing a conviction or delinquency adjudication, you can sometimes get deals that make them less damaging to the record than they could have been.  Another similarity between the juvenile and adult court systems is that many defense attorneys regularly practice in both.  If you are facing legal trouble either as a juvenile or adult, feel free to contact the expert defense attorneys at Dearie, Fischer & Martinson.