A juvenile crime is any crime that is committed by a child or minor (i.e., a juvenile) who is usually under the age of 18 (though the age requirement often varies by state).

For instance, in some states, the maximum age to be charged for a juvenile crime is 16 or 17. Also, most states consider a child who is 14 or older to have the capacity to intentionally commit a crime.

Children who are in the age group of 7 years old or younger are generally deemed to be incapable of intentionally committing a crime. This is because they are considered to be too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong. However, there is a possibility that a young child could be held liable for committing the crime of homicide.

There are many differences between the juvenile criminal justice system and the adult criminal justice system. For one, they are governed by separate laws and rules. Nevertheless, there are some factors that may cause a juvenile to be tried and processed through the adult criminal system. This includes when:

  • A crime is particularly shocking or outrageous; or
  • If the juvenile is a repeat offender.

For example, a juvenile may be tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft. This means that they can face harsher penalties and will have less of a chance to redeem themselves via an alternative form of punishment.

What Should I Do If I Am a Juvenile Accused of a Crime?

The juvenile court will be the one to decide what the best punishment is for a minor. These consequences are intended to educate and rehabilitate the minor, as opposed to simply imposing a punishment on them like an adult would receive. As such, minors have a greater variety of alternative sentencing options than adults.

The type of punishment that the juvenile court may issue against a minor can range anywhere from an educational lecture to a certain time period of confinement to be served in a juvenile detention facility. Hence, where the slang term “juvie” comes from.

Some of the legal consequences for being convicted of committing a juvenile crime may include:

  • Detainment by the juvenile court system;
  • Mandatory schooling;
  • Community service;
  • Probation or parole;
  • Significant fines; and
  • Depending on the minor’s age, the conviction could remain on their permanent record for life.

The likelihood that a minor will receive any of the penalties listed above will depend on the following factors:

  • The type of crime committed;
  • Whether a weapon was used during commission of the crime;
  • The extent of injury or damage done by the crime;
  • How their local community and court system reacts towards the crime in question (in other words, their attitude about the crime);
  • Whether the minor had any prior convictions (i.e., a repeat offender);
  • The circumstances of their home and family life;
  • If the child has any mental health conditions; and
  • Whether the minor was already currently on probation or parole for another crime.

What Constitutional Rights Do Juveniles Accused of Crimes Have?

Despite the fact that juvenile cases are tried in civil rather than criminal court, as citizens of the United States, juveniles are still afforded the protections of constitutional rights. This means that juveniles will have many of the same or similar rights that adult defendants have in the criminal justice system.

Some examples of those rights include:

  • The Right to Counsel: In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that minors have a right to an attorney during a court proceeding. If a minor or their 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 brought against them.
  • The Right to Make a Phone Call: If the minor is already in custody and it is possible that they will be held for quite some time, then they will be allowed to make at least one phone call. They may call their parents or guardians, who in turn, can contact an attorney on their behalf. A juvenile also has the option of contacting an attorney themselves.

    • If the police refuse their request to call a parent, guardian, or attorney, any statements the minor makes to the police after the denial will be admissible in court. By requesting to speak with one of those parties, the minor is invoking their Miranda rights.
  • Right to Confront and Cross-Examine Witnesses: Again, although juvenile cases are considered civil, not criminal matters, the minor will still have the right to cross-examine and question any witnesses who are providing testimony. The juvenile can challenge those witnesses through their attorney.

Lastly, unlike their adult counterparts, minors are not granted access to a jury trial and do not have the option of posting bail.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Juvenile Crimes?

If you are a minor who has been accused of a crime and are potentially facing consequences of juvenile detention, then you should contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can tell you more about your rights as a juvenile and can help you navigate the juvenile criminal system. A lawyer can also appear with you in court and find out whether there are any defenses you can raise against your charges.