Juvenile Crime Issues

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 An Overview of Juvenile Crime and Common Issues

Juvenile crime is an area of criminal law that deals with the criminal activities of offenders who have not reached eighteen. Typically, juvenile offenders will receive less severe forms of punishment than those of an adult and will enter the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal system. Thus, although many of the crimes committed by juveniles are similar or the same as adult crimes, juveniles are subject to different laws and procedures than adults who have been charged with those crimes.

Juvenile crime laws are mainly governed by state law and regulated on a state-by-state basis. Most states have used legislation to enact a juvenile criminal code. Typical elements of a juvenile penal code include:

  • How police may interrogate a juvenile
  • How juveniles may be taken into custody
  • Conditions for a juvenile’s supervision
  • Restitution orders
  • Limitations on punishment
  • Where a juvenile is sent upon conviction for a misdemeanor
  • Where a juvenile is sent upon conviction of a felony

How Old is a Juvenile Offender?

Children ages seven and younger are generally deemed incapable of committing a crime. In the eyes of the law, they are too young to understand the difference between right and wrong fully.

Most states consider a child aged fourteen and older capable of intentionally committing a crime. In several states, the maximum age to be considered for juvenile crime is sixteen or seventeen.

Younger children may be liable for committing the crime of homicide if the crime was particularly egregious or if the juvenile is a repeat offender. In addition, a juvenile may be tried as an adult for rape or crimes of repeated theft.

How Does a Juvenile Case Start?

A juvenile legal issue may arise when law enforcement apprehends a minor for violating the law. It more commonly arises, however, when a parent, guardian, or school official refers a problem to the juvenile court.

A court intake officer will evaluate the case, sometimes called a juvenile delinquency case, to determine whether:

  • Further action is necessary
  • The child should be referred to a social service agency
  • The matter should be formally heard in juvenile court

Can a Juvenile Be Held in Detention before Trial?

If a situation is serious enough, a juvenile may be detained in a juvenile correction facility pending the resolution of the issue. As an alternative, they may be sent to a placement facility. These include:

  • Shelters
  • Group homes
  • Foster homes

Unlike an adult, a juvenile does not have the option to pay bail or to post a bond to obtain their release.

How Does the Juvenile Justice System Work?

Juvenile cases are heard in special juvenile courts. Juvenile courts are considered civil courts, not criminal, as the minor is charged with committing a delinquent act rather than a crime. A juvenile court hears cases dealing with juvenile delinquents, along with issues of child neglect, child abandonment, and child abuse. Juvenile court processes vary from state to state, sometimes even county to county, but there is typically a common juvenile justice procedure that all juvenile courts follow.

Juvenile courts typically handle less serious offenses, such as misdemeanors and citations, that do not result in jail time. This often includes such as:

  • Small time theft
  • Vandalism
  • Trespassing
  • Simple assault (assault without a weapon)
  • Drug and alcohol-related offenses
  • Several traffic violations

If convicted, a juvenile court may order a minor to:

  • Perform community service
  • Pay a fine
  • Remain in home under confinement
  • Or even incarceration in a juvenile correction facility (“juvie”). As noted above, a judge may send the minor to a state prison in extreme cases.

Some crimes are specifically juvenile crimes. Adults cannot commit them or be charged with them. These include:

  • Using a Fake ID: As a minor, you may be prosecuted for using fake identification, and the penalties for using a fake ID range from a $500 misdemeanor in some states to up to a year and a half in prison for crimes of criminal impersonation or forgery crimes. Further, if you use a fake ID to purchase a firearm, that is a felony in almost every state, and you may receive up to seven years in prison.
  • Underage Drinking: As a minor, it is illegal to consume alcohol if you are under age 21. Even though you are considered an adult at age 18, you are underage if you consume alcohol before your 21st birthday. Punishments for possessing, consuming, or attempting to purchase alcohol may result in fines, community service, mandatory alcohol awareness classes, or even jail time.
  • Minor in Possession of a Gun: In most states, minors under 18 may not possess handguns without parental permission or authorized supervision. In some instances, the minor and the gun owner may be charged for a minor’s possession of a gun, with the adult being held criminally liable.
  • Violation of Juvenile Curfew: Juvenile curfew laws restrict the presence of minors in certain locations during certain hours and are typically created by local or state governments to combat juvenile crime. Penalties for violating a curfew law involve fines and community service, and the minor’s parents may also be held liable
  • Drug Use: As a juvenile, you may be charged with possessing or using controlled substances. Further, the United States Supreme Court upheld a public school district’s authority to randomly drug test middle and high school students participating in extracurricular activities. If you fail a school drug test, you will likely not be able to participate in extracurricular activities, and if you are caught possessing the controlled substances, you are likely subject to harsher penalties.

Are There Any Alternatives to a Formal Hearing in Juvenile Court?

If an intake officer determines that a formal hearing in juvenile court is not necessary, arrangements can be made for assistance from:

  • School counselors
  • Mental health services
  • Other youth service agencies.

The intake officer will consider several factors in deciding whether informal proceedings are appropriate, including:

  • The seriousness of the alleged delinquent acts
  • The minor’s history of delinquency
  • The minor’s criminal history
  • The minor’s social history
  • The minor’s level of remorse

Do I Need to Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney?

If you are under eighteen and have been arrested or charged with criminal activity, contacting a well-qualified and experienced juvenile defense attorney may be in your best interests. Conviction of criminal activity, regardless of whether it’s labeled a crime or an act of delinquency, is serious. You will want to make every effort to avoid that.
A juvenile defense attorney can represent you and communicate with the prosecutor’s office, which may result in fewer or no charges being filed against you.

Further, if you end up being charged with a misdemeanor or felony, a juvenile defense attorney will: (1) try to have you released to the custody of your parents at arraignment; (2) negotiate with the prosecutor’s office concerning which offense(s) you are charged with; (3) represent you in any juvenile court or other proceedings; (4) help you construct and present a defense; and (5) file an appeal on your behalf if appropriate.

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