Certain activities are classified as criminal offenses if they are committed by minors or juveniles. These types of crimes are based on the person’s age at the time the activity is committed. Age-based offenses are also called “status” offenses and may include:
- Truancy (unexcused absence from school)
- Violation of juvenile curfew laws
- Purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol
- Purchasing cigarettes or lottery tickets
Status offenses are based on a legal theory called “parens patriae”, which means “parent of the nation”. The theory refers to the power of the state or government to regulate situations that may be dangerous for minors.
What Are the Legal Consequences for Age-Based Criminal Offenses?
Most age-based offenses are relatively minor crimes and are usually treated as misdemeanors or traffic violations. The legal consequences of such violations may include a monetary fine and a sentence in jail for less than one year. More serious crimes such as juvenile felonies may be punishable by prison time, and in some instances the juvenile may be tried as an adult.
In many states, the parent of a juvenile offender may be held legally accountable for the criminal acts of their children. The parent may be fined or jailed under such state laws. Curfew violations and truancy are common examples of age-based offenses where the parent may be held liable.
What Is Diversion of a Juvenile Offense?
Diversion is legal mechanism that allows juveniles status offenders to be directed to alternative rehabilitation programs. Diversion laws allow an age-based offender to bypass formal court proceedings. For example, instead of jail time, a juvenile offender may be allowed to work with a rehabilitative agency in attempts to correct the juvenile’s delinquent behavior.
Diversion was created in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was finally codified in the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act of 1974. The movement toward diversion was created due to the public perception of age-based offenses. Many felt that age-based status offenses were sometimes relatively minor in comparison to the harsh legal penalties resulting from them.
Today, juveniles who are granted diversion are classified as “Children in Need of Supervision” (CHINS) or “Persons in Need of Supervision” (PINS). Diversion is not available in all jurisdictions or for all age-based offenses, and minors can still be subject to formal court proceedings.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Age-Based Criminal Offenses?
If your child has been charged with an age-based offense, you may wish to consult with a lawyer for expert advice. Although most age-based offenses are relatively minor crimes, they can sometimes have negative affects on your child’s criminal record. A seasoned attorney can help represent your child in court, and can determine whether any potential defenses may be available for your child. Also, your criminal defense lawyer can inquire whether your child qualifies for alternative measures such as diversion.