Any crime committed by a person under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile crime.
In a few states, the maximum age to be considered for juvenile crime is 16 or 17. In Wyoming, the maximum age is 19.
Most states consider a child 14 and older of being capable of intentionally committing a crime. If a child is younger than seven, he or she will generally not be held liable for crimes. There is an exception to this rule if the child committed homicide.
Some juvenile cases may move to the adult criminal system, if the juvenile is a repeat offender or if the crime is more serious, like rape or murder.
Are There Different Types of Juvenile Crime?
There are three types of juvenile crime:
- Juvenile Delinquency Cases: These are all cases that involve a minor rather than an adult and will be tried in juvenile court.
- Juvenile Dependency Cases: These cases involve minors who are abused or neglected by their parents. The judge ultimately decides if the minor needs to be removed from the home.
- Cases Involving Status Offenses: Status offenses only apply to minors; they include truancy, curfew violations, running away, and underage drinking.
Most Common Juvenile Crimes
juveniles are most often involved in crimes that are misdemeanors. They can include but are not limited to:
- Vandalism and graffiti charges
- Shoplifting and other petty theft charges
- Simple assault (usually due to fighting incidents)
- Underage drinking violations
- Joyriding a car
More often than not, juvenile crimes are simple misdemeanors that are first-offenses. But juveniles can be involved in more serious crimes such as homicide and grand theft, both of which are felonies.
Juvenile Court System
The juvenile court system is civil rather than criminal. Juveniles are usually accused of committing a delinquent act, rather than being formally charged. The juvenile court can decide what the best punishment is for the child, which can range from a lecture, to confinement in a juvenile detention facility.
There are two types of proceedings in juvenile court cases: informal, and formal.
1. Informal Proceedings: A minor must appear before a probation officer or a judge. They will then be required to do one of the following:
- Listen to a stern lecture
- Attend counseling
- Attend after-school classes
- Repay the victim for damages
- Pay a fine
- Perform community service work
- Enter probation
2. Formal Proceedings: A formal proceeding follows a petition filed by the prosecutor or probation officer assigned to the minor. The minor is then “arraigned” (charged) before a juvenile court judge or referee. This is also referred to as a disposition hearing.
The court will also decide if the minor will be detained or released for the time period between being charged to the court hearing.
If the minor’s case remains in juvenile court, one of three things may occur:
- The minor enters into a plea agreement: A plea agreement includes conditions in which the minor must comply. These can include attending counseling, obeying curfews, or reimbursing the victim for damages.
- The judge “diverts” the case: This allows the judge to retain jurisdiction over the case while the juvenile completes the recommended program assigned to them (counseling). They may also be mandated to perform an act, such as community service or payment of restitution. If the minor fails to complete the tasks assigned, the judge may reinstate formal charges.
- The judge holds an adjudicatory hearing: If the case goes to trial, the defendant and prosecutor both present evidence and attorneys argue the case. In most states, the hearing is before a judge instead of a jury. The judge will decide if the minor is a delinquent after hearing the arguments. If deemed a delinquent, the ruling is considered “sustaining the petition”.
In the case of a delinquency ruling, a probation officer will evaluate the juvenile, and a judge will then decide what sentence is in the best interest of the minor. These can include one or more of the following:
- Confinement in a juvenile detention facility
- Reimbursement of the victim
The judge may also order the juvenile to appear in court intermittently to monitor the juvenile’s progress and behavior.
Constitutional Rights of Juveniles
Even though juvenile cases are held in civil, rather than criminal court, juveniles are still rewarded constitutional rights. Much of them are the same or similar to the rights adults have when entering the criminal justice system. The following are the constitutional rights of a minor when entering into the juvenile court system:
- Probable cause needed to search a minor: Police officers must have probable cause in order to search or arrest a minor. But, public officials such as school personnel only need reasonable suspicion to detain and search a minor.
- Right to a phone call: A minor is allowed to make at least one phone call if they are in custody and will most likely be held for some time. The minor can call a parent or guardian who in turn contacts an attorney. Or the minor has the option to contact an attorney themselves. If police refuse the request of a minor to contact a parent, guardian, or attorney, anything the minor says to the police after that will be admissible in court. By requesting to speak with a parent, the minor is invoking his/her Miranda rights.
- No right to bail: Unlike adults, juveniles do not have the right to seek bail. In most cases, minors are released to their parents or guardians before an arraignment in juvenile court.
- The right to counsel: In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that minors have the right to an attorney in a court proceeding. If a minor or the parents cannot afford an attorney, a state appointed attorney will be provided.
- The right to notice of the charges: A juvenile has the right to know what charges are being pressed against him or her.
- The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses: Even though juvenile cases are civil, not criminal, the juvenile has a right to cross-examine and question witnesses providing testimony. The juvenile may challenge witnesses through an attorney.
- The privilege against self-incrimination: Minors have the right to use their Fifth Amendment privilege, meaning they cannot be forced to testify against him or herself.
- No (or limited) right to a jury trial: Unlike cases involving adults, minors are not allowed a jury for their trial in most states. The few states that do allow a jury for juvenile cases limit them to only specific types of juvenile cases.
The right to have charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if a juvenile is determined as a delinquent and faces incarceration or adjudication, the state must prove the charges against the juvenile were beyond “reasonable doubt”. If the minor is not facing incarceration or adjudication, the state only needs to prove the charges by “preponderance of evidence standard.”
Requirements to Be Tried as an Adult
In certain scenarios, juvenile cases must be moved to an adult criminal court because the charges pressed are so serious or the minor is a repeat offender. These types of cases usually involve rape, homicide, or grand theft charges.
In order for a juvenile case to be moved to an adult court, a judge must waive the protections a juvenile court provides. This process is called a “waiver”.
Juveniles must be eligible for a waiver before the case can be transferred. In most states, a juvenile must be at least 16 years of age. In a lot of states though, minors can be as young as 13 to qualify for a waiver. A few states also allow children of any age to be eligible for a waiver. These cases would usually involve homicide charges.
There are three ways in which a waiver process can begin:
- The prosecutor requests the case be transferred
- The juvenile court judge initiates the transfer
- In some states, juveniles will be automatically transferred to an adult court for cases such as homicide
There are certain factors that lead judges to grant a waiver to juveniles:
- The charge is a serious offense (rape, homicide, etc.)
- The minor involved is a repeat offender
- The minor is older (younger than 18, except for cases in Wyoming)
- Rehabilitation for the minor has failed in the past
- If youth services would have to work with the juvenile for an extended period of time
Can Parents Be Held Responsible for the Acts of Their Children?
Parents are usually held responsible for the child’s actions because they have not fulfilled their duty to prevent the child from committing a crime. The parent will not be charged with the crime the juvenile has committed, but rather charged with failure of proper parental control. So in the end, parents are held criminally liable.
Some laws regarding parental responsibility hold parents legally accountable for “status crimes”, which include skipping school (truancy) or breaking curfew laws.
There are two possible types of penalties that can be mandatory for a parent to fulfill: punitive, and educational:
- Criminal Penalties: In states with parental responsibility laws, the parent can be charged with a misdemeanor. Punishments may include up to one year in prison, a fine of $1,000, or both.
- Educational Penalties: In addition to criminal penalties, parents often will be required to attend educational programs. The educational programs teach parents proper parenting skills to use with their child who has been involved in a crime, and how to prevent criminal activity in the future.
Seeking Legal Help
If you or your child are facing consequences for a delinquent act, you should consult with a juvenile lawyer. A lawyer will help you prepare a defense for your case and will represent you when you are called to appear in juvenile court.