A juvenile crime is any crime that is committed by a child or a minor, generally under the age of 18. However, this age requirement often varies by state. An example of this would be how in some states, the maximum age to be charged for a juvenile crime is 17. Additionally, most states consider a child who is aged 14 or older to have the capacity to intentionally commit a crime.
Children who are 7 years old or younger are generally considered to be incapable of intentionally committing a crime, as 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 a number of differences between the juvenile criminal justice system and the adult criminal justice system; namely, they are governed by separate laws and rules. However, general factors that may cause a juvenile to be tried and processed through the adult criminal system include when the crime is particularly shocking or outrageous. This also includes if the juvenile is a repeat offender.
An example of this would be how a juvenile may be tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft. As such, they can face harsher penalties and will have a less likely chance to redeem themselves with an alternative form of punishment.
The juvenile court will decide what the best punishment is for a minor. It is important to note that these consequences are intended to educate and rehabilitate the minor, as opposed to simply imposing a punishment on them as an adult would receive. As such, minors have a greater variety of alternative sentencing options than adults.
The juvenile court may issue anything from an educational lecture to a specific amount of confinement, which is to be served in a juvenile detention facility. Some common examples of the legal consequences for being convicted of committing a juvenile crime 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 above penalties will depend on the following factors:
- The type of crime that was committed;
- Whether a weapon was used during the commission of the crime;
- The extent of injury or damage resulting from the crime;
- How their local community and court system reacts towards the crime in question;
- Whether the minor had any prior convictions;
- The circumstances of their home and family life;
- Whether the child has any mental health conditions; and
- Whether the minor was already currently on probation or parole for another crime.
What Rights Do Juvenile Offenders Have?
While juvenile cases are tried in civil rather than criminal court, as citizens of the United States, juvenile offenders are still afforded the protections of constitutional rights. Meaning, juvenile offenders 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 the minor or their parents cannot afford an attorney, a state appointed attorney will be provided to represent them;
- Right to Notice of the Charges: A juvenile offender 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 police custody, and it is possible that they will be held for a significant amount of time, 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 offender also has the option of contacting an attorney themselves. If the police refuse their request to call a parent, guardian, or attorney, any statements that the minor makes to the police after the denial will be inadmissible in court. This is because by requesting to speak with one of those parties, the minor is invoking their Miranda rights; and
- The Right to Confront and Cross-Examine Witnesses: To reiterate, while juvenile cases are considered to be civil and not criminal matters, the minor will still have the right to cross-examine and question any witnesses who are providing testimony. The juvenile offender can challenge those witnesses through their attorney.
However, unlike their adult offender counterparts, minors are not granted access to a jury trial. Additionally, they do not have the option of posting bail.
What Are Kids Lawyers?
Whether children are the subject of a custody dispute, are a witness in a trial, or are being charged with a crime, lawyers who specialize in representing children can be especially helpful.
Similar to other types of lawyers, a child’s lawyer should have a solid working knowledge of all of the legal issues involved with each specific case. However, they must also have special talent for dealing with kids. It is especially important for them to be able to convey complex legal issues in language that children can understand. Because of the difficulty involved, as well as the relatively low rates that many of these lawyers charge, kids or children’s lawyers are less common than other types.
Although a case may involve a child, it is generally the child’s parent who must hire the lawyer. However, there are many circumstances in which a lawyer’s first client is the child themselves. An example of this would be how if a child is being charged with a crime, the lawyer will be working on the child’s behalf. Another example would be how if a child does not have a parent, such as a child in the foster care system, a lawyer would be appointed to represent the child in any kind of legal dispute involving that child.
It is far more common for children than adults to have lawyers who are appointed by the court. The lawyer will be appointed either as an attorney, or a “guardian ad litem.” If the lawyer is appointed as a child’s attorney, the relationship will be like that of any other lawyer and client, in which the lawyer advocates for the child’s legal rights and interests. This most commonly occurs if the child has been charged with a crime.
If the lawyer is a “guardian ad litem,” they take on a role as the child’s legal guardian. As their legal guardian, they will tell the court what they think is in the best interests of the child. In a custody dispute, this is more common, especially when the child expresses a wish to stay with one parent who may be unfit or abusive.
When Do I Need A Kids Lawyer?
Lawyers generally represent children in juvenile crime law, which is a subset of criminal law. Juvenile lawyers can also represent a child in a family law case involving child custody, or in a dispute associated with education law.
Additionally, an attorney may be appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interest in cases in which the child’s best interests must be evaluated. The attorneys in such matters are generally paid for by the court, or the fees of the attorney are split between the other parties involved in the suit.