Juvenile Crimes Too Young to Know Better: The Lowdown on Juvenile Crimes

Posted By : Alisha Wood | Date : 03-14-2016

In 2013, more than one million cases were handled by juvenile courts in the United States. The majority of those involved juveniles between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the Juvenile Court Statistics. Criminal activity is not always limited to adult offenders. Adolescents and even children can sometimes be found guilty of breaking the law. However, treatment of juveniles is typically very different from that of adult offenders, due largely to the general belief that youngsters are often too young to know better.


Definition of a Juvenile

The definition of a juvenile varies slightly from state to state, as each state sets their own age when the juvenile moves to adult status. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 41 states have a maximum juvenile court jurisdiction of 17, including California. Seven states list that age as 16 and two states, New York and North Carolina, draw the line at age 15. Anyone over the state’s age limit that commits a crime is tried as an adult.


Crimes Committed by Juveniles

There are a number of crimes or offenses that are typically committed by juveniles:

•Theft, larceny or burglary
•Vandalism and property damage
•Alcohol offenses, possession of marijuana or tobacco offenses
•Assault or harassment – often involve bullying
•Possession of a weapon
•School disciplinary offenses or truancy
•Traffic violations or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle


Recent History of Juvenile Justice System

Three key decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years have largely shape the juvenile justice system into what it looks like today. In 2004, the Supreme Court prohibited capital punishment for juveniles in Rover v. Simmons. In 2010, the Supreme Court abolished mandatory life sentences for juveniles for crimes other than homicide in Graham v. Florida. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences for any juvenile were unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama.

The bottom line in these rulings is that the court sees juveniles as different from adults. Adolescents do not yet have fully developed connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. This is the part of the brain that affects judgement and discernment. Until that area fully develops, usually by the mid-20s, teens and young adults can make choices that may not make sense to most adults. This fact is taken into consideration in most juvenile cases and guides the judge to make decisions that will help the juvenile move forward, rather than simply punishing the offense.


Differences between Juvenile and Adult Crimes

Because juveniles and adults are different, the court systems for each are also different. When juveniles commit an illegal act, it is called a delinquent act, rather than a crime. Juvenile court proceedings tend to move more quickly than adult proceedings and there are typically more sentencing options for the judge to choose when juveniles are adjudicated of their acts. Other differences between the juvenile and adult court systems include:

•Juveniles are not provided the right to a public trial by jury. Instead, these cases involve a private hearing with a judge, known as an adjudication hearing.

•When juveniles are found guilty of an act, the purpose of sentencing is focused on rehabilitating and serving the best interest of the juvenile, rather than merely punishing the individual.

•Juvenile courts may be more informal than adult courts and rules may be more lenient.

•Juvenile records are sealed and many records are expunged completely when the juvenile turns adult age.


Similarities between the Two

While there are many differences between the juvenile and adult court systems, there are also some similarities. Like adults, juveniles have certain rights as they move through the court system, including:

•The right to an attorney (if the juvenile cannot afford an attorney, a public defender may be provided)
•The right to receive notice of the charges
•The right to cross-examine witnesses
•The privilege against self-incrimination
•The right to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before an adjudication can be handed down


Juveniles Tried as Adults

There are some situations where juveniles might be tried as adults. For example, more serious crimes like murder or other crimes against people may fall under this category. Vandalism and arson are also considered criminal offenses in California, although they typically carry lesser sentences than crimes against people. Juveniles may also be tried as adults if they have violated probation on a previous juvenile conviction or if they are a repeat offender.

When deciding to try a juvenile as an adult, there are some significant factors that should be taken into consideration:

•If the juvenile is a potential danger risk to the community
•The juvenile’s level of maturity
•The juvenile’s willingness to participate in treatment and rehabilitation

Juveniles that are tried as adults will end up with a permanent record. This can have far-reaching consequences for a young person, affecting their ability to get jobs or pursue other opportunities in the future.

Juveniles that are sent to detention centers or correction facilities may also have a difficult road ahead. According to a 2011 analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, juvenile correctional facilities in the U.S. can subject young offenders to violence and abuse. The analysis also discovered that juveniles may respond better to other types of penalties that focus more on interventions and treatment programs, rather than simple incarceration. Correction facilities do not typically offer sufficient treatment programs to adequately rehabilitate juveniles and prepare them for a life without repeat offenses.

If you or your child is charged with an offense as a juvenile, professional legal assistance is imperative to ensure the best possible outcome. Alisha A. Wood works with juveniles and their parents to help them navigate the complexities of the juvenile justice system. She will ensure your rights are protected and work toward a sentence focused on rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Do not try to manage the legal process on your own. Contact the Law Offices of Alisha A. Wood today at 619-356-2249 today for a free case evaluation and answers to your legal questions.

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