Generally, any crime that is committed by a person who is under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile crime. Juveniles are sometimes called minors. In a small number of states, the age cutoff for juvenile crimes is different. For example, some states have a maximum age of 16 or 17 for it to be considered a juvenile crime. A lawyer in your area will know the law of the state you are in. Teenage crime is referred to as juvenile delinquency in the legal world.
An astonishing 4,000 out of every 100,000 teenagers are arrested each year in the United States. These teenagers not only face frightening and harsh penalties for their crimes but also face permanent blemishes on their record. Certain youth convictions carry steep consequences, such as the inability to receive federal financial aid for college expenses.
When a teenager commits a crime, they can be arrested by the police. Instead of appearing before a judge who handles adult felons and other criminals, the teenager will appear before a special juvenile judge who handles only juvenile delinquency cases. In most states, the juvenile court hearings are closed to the public.
In addition, only the teenager’s initials will be used on court documents to protect the minor’s privacy. Most states also require that at least one parent attend all court hearings. Juvenile courts are considered civil courts, not criminal, as the minor is charged with committing a delinquent act rather than a crime.
As part of the process, the teenager will be assigned a caseworker who will work with the teenager to ensure they are following all conditions set forth by the judge.
What are Some Examples of Juvenile Crime?
The most common cases of juvenile crime include:
- Underage Drinking: As a minor, it is illegal to consume alcohol if you are under age 21. This is one of the most common juvenile infractions. Even though you are considered an adult at age 18, you are underage if you consume alcohol before your 21st birthday.
- Using a Fake ID: A minor may be prosecuted for using false identification. Notably, if a person uses a fake ID to purchase a firearm, that is a felony in most every state, and penalties can be several years in prison.
- Minor in Possession of a Gun: In most states, minors under the age of 18 may not possess handguns without parental permission. In some instances both the minor and the gun owner may be charged for a minor’s possession of a gun, with the juvenile found civilly liable and the adult being held criminally liable.
- Drug Use: A juvenile may be charged with the possession or use of controlled substances. The United States Supreme Court upheld a public school district’s authority to randomly drug test middle and high school students who participate in extracurricular activities. If a teenager fails a school drug test, they will likely not be able to participate in extracurricular activities, and if they possess the controlled substances they are subject to harsher penalties, perhaps in adult court.
- 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 as a means of combating juvenile crime. Penalties for violating a curfew law often involve fines, and community service. Parents may also be held liable for failure to supervise the teenager.
What Are Some Penalties for a Juvenile Crime?
The type of sentence varies with the type of offense. If a teenager has excessive school absences or has run away from home, the sentence rendered by the judge will likely be more lenient and may include curfew or drug testing.
If the teenager has committed a crime, however, the penalties will likely be much harsher. The teenager may be sentenced to a juvenile detention center, which is separate from an adult prison.
Normally, juvenile crime tried in a juvenile court leads to less harsh sentences or penalties than those issued in adult court. Penalties can include jail time in a juvenile detention center, fines, and sometimes community service or alternative sentences. Alternative sentences could include programs such as counseling or drug and alcohol rehabilitation. House arrest is also sometimes an option for juveniles when the crime is not very serious.
Why Are Juveniles Sometimes Tried as Adults?
In some cases, a juvenile crime case can be moved to the adult criminal system. In certain situations, a juvenile can be tried as an adult even though they are still a minor. There are a variety of factors that a court may look at when deciding that a juvenile should be tried as an adult.
The most common situations include:
- The type or nature of the crime is so serious that it is believed that the juvenile should be treated like an adult;
- The juvenile clearly understood the very serious nature of the crime and the consequences of the crime;
- The juvenile has a history of committing similar serious crimes; or
- The juvenile has been tried by a court as an adult before. This is sometimes called the “once an adult, always an adult rule.” Once a juvenile has been tried as an adult, they will likely be considered an adult in court for any crime they commit in the future.
Are There Disadvantages for Juveniles Tried as Adults?
There can be many disadvantages for a juvenile tried as an adult. As a result, lawyers almost always argue that the case should not be transferred to adult court. Some of the disadvantages for juveniles to be tried in adult courts include:
- The juvenile can get a more severe sentence. This will depend on the specific crime committed.
- Adult criminal records are more difficult to seal and expunge. In juvenile court, sealing records or getting one expunged may be much easier. Also, many juvenile records do not transfer to adult records once the person reaches the age of 18.
- If in adult court, the juvenile may have to serve time in adult jail or prison instead of a juvenile detention center.
- Many sentences and treatment options that are available in juvenile court are not available in adult court.
- Rehabilitation and counseling are very common sentences in juvenile court, but are hard to come by in adult court.
- Access to schooling and vocational skill development is much more limited in the adult system, while the juvenile system is specifically designed to help the teenager prepare themself for a life that will not require them to commit crime to provide for themselves and so rehabilitative programs are common.
- Most youth who receive a lengthy prison sentence in adult court are kept in solitary confinement until they are old enough to enter the general population.
- Teens who receive an adult sentence are almost 40 times more likely to successfully commit suicide while behind bars compared to adults or juveniles sentenced to a youth facility.
Finding Teenage Crime Lawyers
If your teenager has been accused of committing a crime, you need to be prepared to help them fight the charges. Your teenager faces dire consequences, both in terms of penalties such as potential prison time and lasting effects on their permanent record. An experienced juvenile attorney has the skills and expertise to help your child pursue justice.