When it comes to matters of the law and the criminal courts that address these matters, the same set of standards do not exist for juvenile delinquents as for adult offenders. In fact, in most instances juvenile cases are tried in a completely separate court system than that of the adult courts.
Children, adolescents, and all minors under the age of 18 are just as capable of committing criminal behaviors as are their adult counterparts. However, the difference between minor offenders and adult offenders often lies in the way in which they are charged, tried, and sentenced. Generally, minors who have been charged with a criminal offense - from shoplifting to, to underage DUI, to assault and battery – will be legally handled within the juvenile court system. This branch of the justice system is also sometimes referred to as young offender’s court. This is a specially designated court system that possesses the authority to try and pass judgment on crimes that have been committed by juvenile offenders.
In general, the law leans toward permitting all minors under the age of 18 to be tried in juvenile court if they have been accused of criminal behavior. However, there are exceptions to this rule. In eight of the nation’s states, including Texas, Illinois, and Michigan, any individual over the age of 17 will not make the cutoff to be tried in the juvenile court system. Similarly, in the states of New York and North Carolina the minimum age for adult trial is 16. In Washington, children and adolescents under the age of 18 can be charged in either the juvenile or adult court systems; it all depends on the nature and severity of the crime for which they have been accused.
In the same sense that there is no uniform age at which juvenile court hearings end and adult court hearings begin, there is also no nationally accepted age at which a child can be tried in young offender’s court. While many states have decided upon a minimum age of 10 years old, this has not been uniformly agreed upon. From state to state, the standard age at which a child may be held accountable in juvenile court varies.
Juvenile crimes that make it to the courts will be addressed in one of three ways. The first of these being delinquency issues which are directed to the juvenile courts and handled accordingly; the second being criminal offenses which are directed to the criminal justice system and handled from there; the third being status offenses which will also be attended to by the juvenile court system. Status offenses are those that are primarily due to the fact that the offender is underage. For example, truancies and smoking would be examples of status offenses. Had the actions been taken after the age of 18, they would not have been considered an offense at all. An important distinction among these three circumstances is the difference between the behaviors which are settled in young offender’s court and those that are deemed serious enough to be taken all the way to the adult criminal system. Serious criminal acts and repeat offenses will likely bypass the juvenile courts and go straight to the criminal justice system.
No matter where a minor’s charges are ultimately tried, the fact of the matter is that they will need to be adequately represented during the legal proceedings that follow. Because juvenile courts tend to try and sentence cases in a way that favors reform rather than punishment, you will need an attorney that can ensure that the penalties of a conviction reflect the right set of consequences. You do not want to end up with a harsher sentencing than that which is typically deserved for juvenile offenders. In addition, your legal counsel should also demonstrate legal skills strong enough to handle cases as complex as those of juvenile offenders that must be tried in the adult court system. When it comes right down to it, the differences between juvenile and adult courts could make a startlingly difference to the future of your child. Understanding the difference of each court system and how their procedures could impact your child’s life will be significantly helpful when addressing the issues that arise during and after a minor has been charged with any type of criminal offense.