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Can Minors be Charged as Adults?

Posted by attorney Michael Hollinger

The question of whether minors should be treated as adults has been a debatable issue for many years. Psychological and psychiatric research has shown that a person's ability to formulate rationale is not fully developed until the early to mid 20's. As a consequence of this, there is a direct correlation between age and poor impulse control as well as the inability to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Federal Law: The Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act: In the 1990s, with juvenile crime rates rising, federal lawmakers saw a need to change the way juveniles were treated when they committed serious crimes. The Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998 was passed in 2000 despite much controversy. Minors committing violent or serious crimes, including gang-related crimes, could now be charged as adults instead of juveniles. The court based their criteria minors to be tried as adults on certain criteria including previous rehabilitation attempts, degree of criminal offense, and the circumstances surrounding the offense. Minors as young as 14 can be tried as adults if the crime they commit is murder, gang-related crimes, certain sex offenses and repeated offenses. Pennsylvania Law: Aside from the Federal legislation, the law in Pennsylvania is clear that a juvenile (13 years or older) can be charged as an adult if the crime that is alleged to have been committed is serious enough. These crimes are typically crimes of violence such as Robbery, Burglary, Aggravated Assault or certain sexual offenses. If the nature of the offense is serious enough (typically judged by the weapon used or the injury that has been caused), then the District Attorney has the discretion to charge the juvenile as an adult. In such cases, however, the fact that a juvenile is "charged" as an adult, does not mean that the juvenile will "stay" in the adult system. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to assist in having the case "de-certified" from adult court back to juvenile court. The process is quite involved but, if successful, spells the difference between state prison for adults or a rehabilitative juvenile facility.

Additional resources provided by the author

Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy (J Adolesc Health. 2009 September; 45(3): 216–221).

Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, 2010 ed.

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