Juvenile crime is an area of criminal law that deals with the criminal activities of offenders who have not reached eighteen years of age. Typically, juvenile offenders will receive less severe forms of punishment than that 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.

Laws governing juvenile crime law are mainly governed by state law and regulated on a state by state basis, with most states enacting a juvenile criminal code through legislation. Typically, states determine the rules in how a juvenile may be questioned, how they may be taken into custody, conditions for a juvenile’s supervision, restitution orders, and other aspects of juvenile criminal procedure.

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

In contrast, 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 in the eyes of the law.

However, young children may be held liable for committing the crime of homicide, if the crime was particularly egregious, or if the juvenile is a repeat offender. For instance, a juvenile may be tried as an adult for the crimes of rape or for crimes of repeated theft.

How Does the Juvenile Justice System Work?

Generally, juveniles cases are heard in special juvenile courts. A juvenile court is a court that hears cases dealing with juvenile delinquents, along with issues of child neglect, abandonment, abuse. Juvenile court processes vary from state to state, sometimes even county to county, but there is a typically a common juvenile justice procedure that all juvenile court’s follow.

Juvenile courts are considered civil courts, not criminal, as the minor is charged with committing a delinquent act rather than a crime. If convicted, a juvenile court may order a minor to perform community service, pay a fine, remain in home confinement, or even incarceration in a juvenile correction facility (also known as “juvie”). As noted above, in extreme cases a judge may send the minor to a state prison.

What are Some Examples of Juvenile Crime?

Juvenile crime may appear in many different forms, but the most common cases of juvenile crime include:

  • Using a Fake ID: As a minor, you may be prosecuted for using fake identification. Penalties for using a fake ID range from a $500 misdemeanor in some states, all the way to up to a year and a half in prison for crimes of criminal impersonation or forgery.
    • Further, if you use a fake ID to purchase a firearm, that is a felony in most 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 the age of 18 may not possess handguns without parental permission or authorized supervision.
    • In some instances both 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 as a means of combating juvenile crime.
    • Penalties for violating a curfew law often involve fines, community service, and parents may also be liable.
  • Drug Use: As a juvenile you may be charged with the possession or use of controlled substances. Further, the United States Supreme Court upheld a public school district's authority to randomly drug test middle and high school students who participate in extracurricular activities.
    • If you fail a school drug test, you will likely not be able to participate in extracurricular activities, and if you possess the controlled substances you are likely subject to harsher penalties.

Do I Need to Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney?

If you are under the age of eighteen and have been arrested or charged with criminal activity, contacting a well qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney may be in your best interests.

A juvenile defense attorney will be able to represent you and communicate with the prosecutor’s office, which may result in lesser or no charges being filed against you. Further, if you end up being charged with a misdemeanor or felony, a juvenile defense attorney will try and have you released to the custody of your parents at arraignment.