Most states set their own minimum and maximum ages regarding whether a person will be tried as a juvenile or an adult. Like adults, juveniles may be charged with felonies and misdemeanors. However, only juveniles may be charged with wrongful acts known as status offenses, such as committing truancy, breaking curfew and running away from home.
Just as prosecutors must prove that adults had the required criminal intent when they committed a crime, prosecutors must prove the same with juveniles. In general, most states have decided that children younger than 6 aren’t able to develop the necessary mindset to commit certain crimes. However, children between 6 and 16 (or 17 or 18, depending on the state) are thought to be capable of forming the necessary criminal intent to be charged with violent crimes.
Like adults, juveniles can put forth valid arguments and defenses to alleged crimes. Similarly, both adults and juveniles can argue that they were unable to formulate the required mental state to be held criminally liable because of severe mental health problems or pronounced developmental delays that can be medically documented.
When a juvenile is accused of a violent crime, such as aggravated assault or murder, the courts frequently will hold a waiver or transfer hearing to determine whether the juvenile should be tried as an adult. When an offender is tried as a juvenile, states often will maintain jurisdiction over the child until he or she turns 18 or 21.
Determining whether a child should be tried as a juvenile or an adult is a critical judicial decision. The punishment phases can produce widely different outcomes, and only juveniles, in some states, may have their criminal records expunged once they reach their state’s age of majority.
States become involved in juvenile cases under the legal principle set forth in Prince v. Massachusetts that they should act as parents to the children to be sure they’re cared for properly. In a later opinion, the Supreme Court stated that juvenile court proceedings are designated as civil rather than criminal because the court is engaged in determining the needs of the child and of society rather than simply ruling on criminal conduct.
Learn more about juvenile justice by visiting the following pages:
The Juvenile Justice System
The juvenile justice system is a complicated process during which issues like trying a juvenile as an adult and blended sentencing come into play.
Juvenile Justice Programs
Early-intervention programs such as specialty courts and vocational training attempt to curb juvenile violence.
Status offenses are wrongful acts committed by juveniles that can lead to deferred adjudication or probation.