A child is not considered capable of committing a crime because they lack the mental capacity to understand their actions fully. However, this is less true when the child is closer to the age of majority (i.e., 18 years of age), such as when a teenager engages in teen violence.
Can a Child Commit a Crime?
What Are Juvenile Crimes?
A juvenile crime occurs when a child or minor (i.e., a juvenile) commits a crime before the age of 18 (though the minimum age varies from state to state).
For instance, in some states, the maximum age to be charged with a juvenile crime is 16 or 17. Also, most states consider a child who is 14 or older to have the capacity to commit a crime intentionally.
Children under the age of seven are generally considered incapable of intentionally committing a crime. As a result, they are considered too young to understand the difference between right and wrong fully. It is possible, however, that a young child could be held liable for homicide.
Juvenile and adult criminal justice systems differ greatly. Separate laws and rules govern them. However, some factors may cause a juvenile to be tried and processed as an adult.
- A crime is particularly shocking or outrageous; or
- If the juvenile is a repeat offender.
For example, a juvenile may be tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft. This means that they can face harsher penalties and will have less of a chance to redeem themselves via an alternative form of punishment.
How Does the Juvenile Justice System Work?
Special juvenile courts usually hear juvenile cases. Juvenile courts hear juvenile delinquents, child neglect, abandonment, and abuse cases. Juvenile court processes vary from state to state, sometimes even county to county, but there is typically a common juvenile justice procedure that all juvenile courts follow.
Juvenile courts are considered civil courts rather than criminal courts since the minor is accused of committing a delinquent act rather than a crime. The juvenile court may sentence a minor to community service, fines, home confinement, or even incarceration in a juvenile correction facility (also known as “juvie”). In extreme cases, a judge may sentence a minor to prison.
A child must have the mental capacity to be charged with a crime. To be found guilty of the crime, they must know what they are doing and intend to do so. A child younger than seven has no mental capacity to commit a crime and, therefore, cannot be charged. For children between seven and fourteen, their mental capacity is questionable. Before prosecuting the child, the judge will consider the child’s age, experience, and understanding.
In cases where a judge decides to prosecute a child under 14 years of age, the child may assert the infancy defense. They will argue that he lacks the capacity to commit the crime. Thus, the prosecution must prove that the child understood and appreciated the wrongfulness of the act. In addition, the court will consider whether there was preparation or concealment of the act.
Instead of holding children to adult standards of punishments, courts have been using the juvenile justice system as a form of rehabilitation. The juvenile court system will punish children as a last resort or for violent crimes.
What Are Some Examples of Juvenile Crime?
Juvenile crime can take many forms, but the most common types are:
- Using a Fake ID: As a minor, you may be prosecuted for using fake identification. The penalties for using a fake ID vary from a $500 misdemeanor in some states up to a year and a half in prison for crimes of criminal impersonation. Further, using a fake ID to buy a firearm is a felony in most states, and you may receive up to seven years in prison.
- Underage Drinking: As a minor, it is illegal to consume alcohol if you are under age 21. Although you are considered an adult at age 18, you are still underage if you consume alcohol before your 21st birthday. If you possess, consume, or attempt to purchase alcohol, you may face fines, community service, alcohol awareness classes, or even jail time.
- Minor in Possession of a Gun: In most states, minors under the age of 18 may not possess handguns without parental permission or authorized supervision. The gun owner and the minor may be charged for a minor’s gun possession, with the adult being held accountable.
- Violation of Juvenile Curfew: Juvenile curfew laws restrict the presence of minors in certain locations during certain hours and are typically created by local or state governments to combat juvenile crime. In addition to fines and community service, parents may also be held liable for curfew violations.
- Drug Use: As a juvenile, you may be charged with possessing or using controlled substances. Additionally, the US Supreme Court upheld a public school district’s right to test students who participate in extracurricular activities for drugs randomly. If you fail a school drug test, you will likely not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, and if you possess controlled substances, you may face harsher penalties.
What Crimes Can Juveniles Be Charged as Adults?
When a juvenile turns 18, they can be charged as an adult in most states. Some states may impose a younger or older age limit depending on the crime a minor committed. Crimes that can result in a juvenile being charged as an adult criminal defendant include:
- Serious felony offenses or violent crimes, such as first-degree murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, and so forth;
- Criminal acts that are classified as wobbler crimes under a particular state criminal statute; and
- Criminal offenses that a minor repeatedly commits and for which rehabilitation programs or a juvenile detention center have failed to prevent from recurring.
What Should I Do If I Am a Juvenile Accused of a Crime?
The juvenile court will decide what the best punishment for a minor is. Rather than simply punishing the minor, these consequences aim to educate and rehabilitate them. As a result, minors have a broader range of alternative sentencing options than adults.
A juvenile court may impose punishment on a minor ranging from an educational lecture to a certain period of confinement to a juvenile detention facility. Hence, the slang term “juvie.”
You may face the following legal consequences if you are convicted of committing a juvenile crime:
- Detainment by the juvenile court system;
- Mandatory schooling;
- Community service;
- Probation or parole;
- Significant fines; and
- Depending on the minor’s age, the conviction could remain on their permanent record for life.
The likelihood that a minor will receive any of the penalties listed above depends on the following factors:
- The type of crime committed;
- Whether a weapon was used during the commission of the crime;
- The extent of injury or damage done by the crime;
- How their local community and court system react towards the crime in question (in other words, their attitude about the crime);
- Whether the minor had any prior convictions (i.e., a repeat offender);
- The circumstances of their home and family life;
- If the child has any mental health conditions; and
- Whether the minor was already currently on probation or parole for another crime.
Consulting a Lawyer
If your child has been accused of committing a crime, you should consult a juvenile lawyer. It is not uncommon for a child close to the age of majority to be considered to have the mental capacity and be charged as an adult. An attorney can help your child clear their name and ensure that they are charged as a child.
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