People under the age of 21 are legally classed as juveniles in most endeavors. However, in certain instances where a crime has been committed, the decision is occasionally taken (depending on the nature of the specific situation) to charge a minor as an adult. If this happens to a specific juvenile, they must be aware that there are marked differences between the juvenile legal system and the standard criminal law system – it is imperative to understand them.
Charged as a Juvenile
Generally, in most states, the system is predisposed to treat a misdemeanor defendant as a juvenile if they are under the age of 17, or a felony defendant as a juvenile if they are under 16. There are states that the law does not require that a parent be present before police may attempt to question a juvenile – the law mandates that a “reasonable attempt” must be made, but their presence is not mandatory. However, a youth officer must be present, in order to ensure that a juvenile suspect or defendant has a person to protect their interests during the law enforcement process.
Most state’s juvenile laws still very much aim to establish juvenile justice as rehabilitative rather than punitive; for example, one of the major differences between the process of a juvenile defendant’s charging and an adult defendant’s is that the law states that minimal delay must be permitted. Another difference is that there must be a sight and sound barrier between juvenile and adult defendants in lockup during proceedings. Juveniles are also permitted to expunge certain proceedings from their criminal records, where adults may only expunge non-conviction proceedings.
Charged as an Adult
Compared with the juvenile justice system, a juvenile charged as an adult will find standard criminal court to be an intimidating experience. The major difference between juvenile court and adult court is that adult court is generally punitive – standard sentencing guidelines will apply to juvenile defendants whose crimes are heard there, which includes mandatory minimums (which do not exist in juvenile court).
It is possible in many cases to petition to have the case removed back to juvenile court, if a defendant is still under the age of 17, but it is not automatic, and this option is also not available for every cause of action. Homicide, sexual assault, and (sometimes) aggravated battery defendants must, by law, have their cases tried in adult court, because they are particularly violent and/or dangerous offenses.
The general criteria used to determine
whether a case may be removed have to do with the defendant’s mental state and background, the nature of the crime, and degree of culpability, and with those three offenses, all four factors at issue would lend themselves to the case remaining in adult court in the majority of situations regardless.
Enlist an Experienced Criminal Attorney
Many juvenile defendants have had no previous contact with the legal system and are thus in need of a seasoned legal professional to assist in navigating proceedings that can be frightening and complex. Contact a dedicated criminal lawyer Fairfax, VA trusts today to set up an appointment for a consultation.
Thank you to our friends and contributors at Dave Albo – Attorney for their insight into juveniles and criminal defense.