When kids or teenagers under the age of 18 get into trouble with the law, they are often referred to as juvenile crime offenders. The kind of trouble they get into can be categorized mainly into two types: misdemeanors and felonies. Understanding how the legal system treats these young individuals based on the severity of their actions is crucial. This topic will dive into the differences between these charges and how the juvenile justice system responds to each.
A criminal offense that’s less serious, but more significant than an infraction. Examples include petty theft, simple assault, public intoxication, trespassing, vandalism, reckless driving, and disorderly conduct. While they are less severe, they can still lead to fines, probation, community service, or short jail sentences, though the specifics can vary by jurisdiction.
A serious crime that often comes with a heavier punishment. Felonies can range from violent crimes like murder or assault to property crimes like theft and vandalism. They also cover drug-related offenses, white-collar crimes like fraud, sexual offenses such as rape, and violations of specific laws, like tax evasion. The severity and exact nature of the punishment can vary based on the type and degree of the crime committed.
The Juvenile Justice System
A. Differences Between Juvenile and Adult Justice Systems
The juvenile system is different from the adult court. When a minor commits a crime, they are usually charged as a juvenile and their case is filed with the juvenile court. But in some severe cases, like a class B felony or first-degree violent crime, they might be transferred to adult court and be treated like an adult.
If the juvenile court handles the case, the child might spend time in a juvenile detention center, not a regular jail. It’s essential for them or their parents to contact a criminal defense lawyer or defense attorney as soon as possible to help with their case.
B. Objectives of the Juvenile Court
The main goals of the juvenile system are:
The system aims to help and rehabilitate youthful offenders so they can fix their mistakes and not commit more crimes when they become an adult. This might involve community service or counseling.
Just because the court is focused on helping doesn’t mean the young offender won’t face consequences for their actions. They might be placed on probation, do community service, or be detained. Depending on the crime, a misdemeanor offense might lead to lighter consequences.
Protection of Society
The system ensures that the juvenile’s actions are addressed so that they don’t pose a risk to others. This can mean that sometimes, even if the crime was committed by someone considered a juvenile, they might be prosecuted as an adult if the court believes it’s the best way to protect the community.
V. Handling Misdemeanor Charges
The juvenile justice system prioritizes rehabilitation over punishment, especially when dealing with juvenile misdemeanors.
A. Common Punishments and Outcomes
Placed on probation, the juvenile may have to regularly check in with a probation officer, attend school, and avoid committing crimes. Probation is a common consequence. If a minor violates probation terms, the juvenile court may detain the juvenile or consider other punishments.
Counseling or Therapy
Rehabilitation is at the heart of the juvenile system. If the crime was influenced by substance abuse or mental health issues, counseling or therapy might be mandated. This approach aims to address the root causes of the behavior and prevent future offenses.
Restitution to Victims
For crimes that resulted in financial loss or harm to victims, the court might order restitution. The juvenile would be required to compensate the victim, ensuring that they make amends for their actions.
Common outcome for juvenile misdemeanors. It serves as a way to give back to the community and instill responsibility in the offender.
Handling Felony Charges
Navigating the juvenile justice system when faced with felony charges can be daunting. These charges come with significant potential consequences, especially when the crime is severe or if the juvenile has a prior criminal record.
A. Potential Severity of Punishments
Felony offenses committed by juveniles can lead to:
Detention or Incarceration
Serious offenses may result in the juvenile spending time in a juvenile detention center. This detention is not just punitive but also aims to rehabilitate the juvenile.
Probation is a common consequence of juvenile crimes, even felonies. It involves the offender adhering to specific conditions, like attending school or undergoing periodic evaluations.
Mandatory Counseling or Treatment Programs
If the crime hints at behavior or drug problems, the juvenile court may require counseling. This aims to tackle the main issues and stop future offenses.
B. Possibility of Transfer to Adult Court
When a juvenile is charged with a felony, the possibility of being transferred to adult court becomes a significant concern. Here’s a breakdown of the factors and implications:
Criteria for Transfer
Factors considered include the nature of the committed crime, the offender’s age, previous criminal history, and the perceived potential for rehabilitation within the juvenile system. Serious crimes, especially violent felonies, are more likely to lead to a transfer, typically those close to the age of legal adulthood, are more likely to be tried as adults. A juvenile with prior convictions or a history in the juvenile justice system is more at risk of transfer. Often, the decision to request a transfer rests with the prosecutor, who evaluates the evidence, the severity of the crime, and the perceived threat to public safety.
Consequences and Implications
If tried as an adult, the juvenile may face adult criminal justice system penalties, which differ greatly from the rehabilitation-focused juvenile system. An adult criminal record might also follow the juvenile for life, affecting future opportunities. Those tried as adults can be sentenced to adult prisons instead of juvenile detention centers. While juvenile proceedings are often confidential, adult court proceedings are public. Having an adult felony conviction can impact voting rights, job prospects, housing applications, and more.
Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer.
When a juvenile faces a misdemeanor or felony charge, it’s crucial to hire a criminal defense lawyer. The juvenile legal system is complex, and a criminal lawyer can help navigate it while ensuring the young person’s rights are protected. They can advocate for rehabilitation-focused outcomes, negotiate reduced charges, and try to prevent the juvenile from being tried as an adult. Additionally, lawyers can work to seal or erase criminal records, safeguarding the juvenile’s future. Given the lasting impact of these charges, having a lawyer is essential for the best possible outcome.
At what age can a juvenile potentially be tried as an adult for a serious crime?
This varies by jurisdiction, but in many places, juveniles as young as 14 can be tried as adults for especially serious crimes.
Are Records of Juvenile Offenses Sealed or Expunged When They Turn 18?
Often, juvenile records can be sealed or expunged, but it typically requires a petition and isn’t automatic.
Do Parents or Guardians Face Any Legal Consequences if Their Child Commits a Crime?
Depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the crime, parents might be held financially liable or face other penalties.
Do Juvenile Felony Convictions Prevent Youths From Participating in Specific Programs or Receiving Certain Benefits, Like Scholarships?
It’s possible. Some scholarships and programs have conduct or criminal history criteria.