Juvenile crime includes any crime that is committed by a child (juvenile) who is under the age of 18. In several states, the maximum age to be considered for juvenile crime is 16 or 17. Most states consider a child 14 and older to be capable of intentionally committing a crime.
Children ages seven and younger are generally deemed incapable of committing a crime, since they are too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong. However, young children may be held liable for coming the crime of homicide.
The juvenile criminal system is different from the adult criminal system. The rules and laws are different for both systems. A court may force a juvenile to be tried in the adult criminal system if:
- The crime was particularly egregious, or
- The juvenile is a repeat offender
For example, a juvenile might be tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft.
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 serious consequences for a juvenile criminal conviction:
- Detained by the juvenile court system
- It could be on your record for life (depending on your age)
- Mandatory schools
- Community service
- Probation or parole
- Significant fines
The likelihood of any of the above consequences depends on:
- Type of crime committed
- Extent of injury or damage
- Attitude of community and court toward this type of crime
- Prior convictions
- Whether or not a weapon is used
- Currently on probation or parole
- Family circumstances
- Mental health
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.
A few include:
- 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.
- 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.
- Right to notice of the charges: A juvenile has the right to know what charges are being pressed against him or her.
- 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.
Unlike adults, minors are not granted a jury trial or the ability to post bail.
If you are accused of a juvenile crime and face detention, you should contact a criminal defense attorney to learn more about your rights and any possible defenses that are available to your situation.