A juvenile misdemeanor is a criminal offense that is considered to be less serious than a felony, but more serious than an infraction and is committed by a minor defendant. In most states, a person will be charged as a minor until they reach the age of majority, which is usually around 18 years of age. However, if a minor commits a crime that rises to the level of a felony offense, then they may be charged as an adult before they turn 18 years old.
Similar to standard misdemeanor offenses, the laws concerning juvenile misdemeanor crimes can vary widely by jurisdiction. Some common examples of misdemeanor crimes that a juvenile defendant can be charged with committing in their state may include the following:
- Petty theft;
- Simple assault;
- Graffiti or vandalism;
- Running away from home;
- Underage drinking; and/or
- Possession of alcohol as a minor.
Although juvenile defendants do not typically face harsher punishments than adult criminal defendants, being charged with a juvenile misdemeanor crime can result in serious legal consequences. Thus, if you or your minor child require further legal advice about a specific juvenile misdemeanor charge, then it may be in your best interest to speak to a local criminal attorney as soon as possible.
What Are the Legal Consequences for Juvenile Misdemeanors?
In general, the penalties associated with misdemeanor crimes tend to be less serious than those for felony offenses. Although this notion may be true in regard to adult defendants, it does not always apply to juvenile offenders. The reason for this is because a juvenile offender can face severe legal consequences for committing a crime that is considered a juvenile misdemeanor offense.
For instance, the punishment that a juvenile offender can receive for committing a juvenile misdemeanor crime is having to pay large monetary fines and/or having to serve time in a juvenile detention center. A juvenile offender may also have to do community service work, attend mandatory classes, and comply with probation or parole requirements for a certain amount of time.
Unlike adult defendants, however, a juvenile offender may be able to ask a juvenile court for an alternative form of punishment. It is often much easier to convince a court to issue an alternative sentencing method for a juvenile offender than it is to get a court to agree to do so for an adult defendant.
For example, a minor defendant who is charged with committing a juvenile misdemeanor offense may be ordered to serve time under house arrest and/or perform community service work. This may happen instead of being sentenced to serve some period of time in a juvenile detention center.
Lastly, the reason that juvenile courts are willing to be more lenient when sentencing a minor defendant in comparison to an adult offender is due to public policy. In other words, public policy supports the idea that youth offenders can redeem themselves before they reach a certain age.
As such, society gives juvenile defendants a second chance by allowing them to stay active in the community and to participate in programs that can help them change their lives for the better.
What Is a Diversionary Program?
A diversionary program, also known as an early intervention or a pre-trial intervention program, is a state run service that is aimed at rehabilitating or treating a juvenile offender. Diversionary programs may be offered as an alternative to sentencing a minor defendant to serve a term in a juvenile detention center after they have been arrested and charged with a crime.
Whether a juvenile defendant is offered the option of entering a diversionary program will depend on laws of the state in which they are being charged as well as on their past criminal record. In most cases, a juvenile program will only be available to the following types of minor defendants:
- A juvenile who has committed a first-time offense;
- A juvenile who is charged with a non-violent felony crime;
- A juvenile who has committed a misdemeanor offense; and/or
- A juvenile who is charged with the crime of driving while under the influence.
In such cases, a juvenile court may consider an eligible minor defendant’s request to impose an alternative method of punishment, as opposed to ordering the minor defendant to serve time in a juvenile detention center. Some examples of the types of alternative methods of punishments that a diversionary program may offer include:
- Volunteering a set number of hours as part of a community service program;
- Agreeing to enter into a rehabilitation facility to treat a drug and/or alcohol addiction;
- Obtaining treatment from a counselor for other behavioral conditions, such as anger management classes or therapy;
- Attending educational classes or special summer camps that are meant to rehabilitate juvenile offenders;
- Sending formal apology letters to persons who were injured by their actions;
- Paying criminal fines and/or restitution to victims who suffered harm due to their conduct;
- Being placed on a one-year period of probation; and/or
- Serving a sentence under house arrest instead of in a juvenile detention center.
It should be noted that a juvenile defendant who violates the terms of their diversionary program or an alternative form of punishment can face serious legal consequences. For instance, a judge may issue a harsher sentence as well as can deny them the option of enrolling in a diversionary program as their punishment.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Juvenile Misdemeanor Charges?
As discussed above, juvenile misdemeanor crimes require specialized knowledge of the law and the legal procedures that affect juvenile defendants charged with committing such offenses. A minor who is accused of committing a juvenile misdemeanor crime should also be aware of their legal rights, the various legal defenses they may have access to, and the potential kinds of punishments that can receive if they are convicted.
Generally speaking, the more experience that an individual has with juvenile laws and proceedings, the better a juvenile’s chances are of receiving a fair hearing and a corresponding punishment if they are convicted on juvenile misdemeanor charges. Accordingly, you should strongly consider hiring a local juvenile lawyer if you are the parent of a minor or a juvenile who has been accused of violating the law.
A lawyer who has experience in handling juvenile matters will be able to inform you of your rights under the relevant laws and can assist you in navigating the legal procedures associated with the juvenile justice system. Your lawyer can make sure that your rights as a juvenile defendant are adequately protected and can request that a court ensure that your juvenile record is sealed.
Your lawyer will also be able to appear alongside you at hearings held in juvenile court. In addition, your lawyer can determine if there are any legal defenses available to you that you can raise against the juvenile misdemeanor charges. In the event that the legal defense raised in a case is unsuccessful, your lawyer will be able to submit a petition to the court requesting an alternative sentencing option on you or your minor child’s behalf.
Finally, your lawyer will also be able to predict the possible outcomes of your case and can explain how certain legal punishments may affect the rest of you or your juvenile child’s life. If a juvenile court decides that you or your minor child should be tried as an adult, your lawyer will be able to provide representation in criminal court and can help guide you or your minor child through the standard criminal justice system for adults.