Even the best of parents might be shocked to discover that their child has been accused of a crime. What does this mean for their child, now and in the future? A person too young to be prosecuted for a crime is usually considered a juvenile offender.
Each state has established a juvenile court system to handle youthful offenders. The goal of juvenile court is to rehabilitate rather than punish. For serious crimes, however, a juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult.
Age Varies by State
Most states define a juvenile offender as any person under age 18 who commits an act that would be considered a crime if the act was committed by an adult. Some states set the juvenile offender age at 16 and younger, while North Carolina sets the age at 15 and under.
Juvenile Court Oversees Youthful Offenders
A juvenile charged with committing a crime is sent to the state's juvenile court. Although each state has enacted its own rules, juvenile courts in general have wide discretion in handling cases involving youthful offenders. For example, the judge can evaluate whether the juvenile could benefit from a counseling program without the need for a formal court proceeding.
Even after a formal proceeding, the juvenile court has various sentencing options, such as placing the offender in a group home or foster care, or ordering counseling, home detention or electronic monitoring. Because of the age of the accused, proceedings in juvenile court are not open to the public.
Juvenile Offenders Can Be Transferred to Adult Court
All states have laws that permit juvenile offenders to be tried as adults. This may be done in exceptional cases that usually involve a serious crime such as murder or in situations where the juvenile is a repeat offender. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have no age restrictions for transferring a juvenile offender to adult court.
The remaining states set a minimum age for transferring a juvenile offender that varies from age 10 to age 15. Once a juvenile offender is tried as an adult, it's likely that the individual will be tried as an adult for any future offenses.
Juvenile Records Can Be Sealed
Records in juvenile court are not open to the public. After a youthful offender has become an adult, most states will allow juvenile records to be sealed or expunged in certain circumstances. This is not automatic.
A written request must be made to the court. The court can order any government agency to seal or expunge juvenile court records. Non-government sources of the records, such as media reports, will not be sealed or expunged.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding juveniles who commit crimes is complicated and varies from state to state. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal defense lawyer.