A juvenile crime is any crime that is committed by a child or minor who is usually under the age of 18. However, the specific age requirement varies from state to state.
In addition, 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. This is because they are too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong.
However, there is a possibility that a young child could be criminally liable for committing certain especially heinous crimes, e.g., homicide specifically.
There are numerous differences between the juvenile criminal justice system and the adult criminal justice system, namely that they are governed by separate laws and rules. However, there are some factors that could cause a juvenile to be charged and tried in the adult system. This would be when the crime is particularly shocking or outrageous or if the juvenile is a repeat offender.
For example, if a juvenile were to commit a rape, homicide, or a second or subsequent theft offense, they might be charged and tried as an adult. They would face considerably harsher penalties and less of a chance to redeem themselves through an alternative form of punishment.
What Happens if a Minor Is Caught With a Gun?
Whether a minor may legally possess a handgun or other firearm largely depends on the law of the specific state. Below is a list of some examples of state laws regarding minors and firearm possession. Many states allow minors to be in possession of certain kinds of firearms. So, a minor in possession of a firearm is not always a criminal offender:
- California Law:
- Minors under 18 may not possess handguns or most semi-automatic rifles without parental permission or authorized supervision. However, there are no laws that regulate a minor’s possession of rifles or shotguns.
- A person cannot sell or give handguns to individuals who are under 21 and other firearms to minors under 18, except for supervised loans of firearms or for limited lawful activities such as hunting;
- Under California law, licensed dealers are required to verify the transferee’s age and identity prior to delivering any firearm3 and are generally prohibited from selling, supplying, delivering, or giving possession or control of any firearm (including completed or unfinished frames and receivers)4 to people under the age of 21;
- Florida Law:
- Minors under 18 may not possess any firearm without parental permission or authorized supervision.
- Selling or giving firearms to minors under 18 is illegal unless for supervised loans of firearms or for limited lawful activities such as hunting;
- Illinois Law:
- Minors under 18 may not possess handguns without parental permission or authorized supervision. However, they may possess other firearms if they have a state-issued license to do so.
- It is legal to sell or give firearms, other than handguns, to minors who are holding a state license card or for limited lawful activities, such as hunting;
- New York Law:
- Minors under 21 may not possess handguns. Minors under 16 may not possess any other firearms without parental permission or authorized supervision.
- Selling or giving firearms to minors under 19 is considered to be illegal unless for supervised loans of firearms or for limited lawful activities such as hunting;
- Texas Law:
- There are no state laws prohibiting a minor from possessing any firearms, including handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons. Further, minors do not need parental permission to be in possession of a firearm.
- It is illegal to sell or give firearms to minors under 18 unless for supervised loans of firearms or for limited lawful activities, such as hunting.
What Happens if a Minor is Caught With a Stolen Gun?
The punishment for a minor who is caught with a stolen weapon depends on the state in which the crime takes place. State laws are very different when it comes to the punishment for juvenile theft. The punishment depends on the type of property stolen or its value. The penalty often depends on the type or value of the stolen property. If the value is under $2500, for instance, the offense might be a misdemeanor, while any item with a value above that would be a felony.
Some state laws make it a felony to steal certain things without regard to their value. Firearms are this kind of thing. Of course, this assumes that the juvenile stole the firearm.
Why the Penalty Matters in Juvenile Cases?
The distinction between felony and misdemeanor crime is important in juvenile cases. Committing a felony-level offense brings with it the possibility that the juvenile would be charged with a felony and transferred to adult court.
The possibility of transfer is lower for theft than other crimes mentioned in this article because theft isn’t a violent offense. However, a judge will impose a harsher penalty when juvenile theft is a felony versus a misdemeanor.
If the juvenile remains in juvenile court, the judge decides what the best punishment is for a juvenile offender. These consequences are generally intended to educate and rehabilitate the minor, as opposed to simply imposing a punishment on them as would happen in a non-juvenile court.
Because of this, minors have a greater variety of alternative sentencing options than adults. They can range from an educational lecture to a period of confinement, usually served in a juvenile detention facility. Some examples of the legal consequences of being convicted of committing a juvenile crime include the following:
- Incarceration in a juvenile detention facility;
- Mandatory schooling;
- Community service;
- Probation or parole;
- Significant fines.
The following factors will be considered when determining punishment for a minor:
- 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;
- Whether the minor had any prior convictions;
- The circumstances of their home and family life;
- If the minor has any mental health conditions; and
- Whether the minor was already currently on probation or parole for another crime.
Can a Parent Be Held Criminally Liable for a Minor’s Possession of a Gun?
The law in some states allows an adult gun owner to be criminally liable for a minor’s possession of a gun. The penalties for the offense vary depending on state law:
- California: It is a criminal offense to store or leave a loaded firearm where a minor has access to it. A minor is a person under the age of 18. If a minor does gain access to a firearm and then threatens or injures someone or carries the firearm off the premises, the parent can be liable. This does not apply if the firearm was stored in a locked or secure container or had a child-safety lock. The crime could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts;
- Florida: It is a crime to store or leave a loaded firearm so a minor can access it. A minor is a person who is under 16. If a minor gains access to the gun, the parent can be criminally liable. The law does not apply if the firearm is kept in a locked box, secured with a child-safety lock. The crime would be a misdemeanor and a felony if the minor injures someone;
- Illinois: It is a crime to store or leave a loaded firearm in a way that allows a minor child, i.e., a child under the age of 14, to gain unauthorized access to the firearm and use it to injure or kill. The law does not apply if the firearm is secured by a child-safety lock and is placed in a locked box. Alternatively, it may be stored in some other location that a reasonable person would believe to be inaccessible to a minor. This is a misdemeanor;
- New York: Gun owners are not held accountable for leaving a loaded firearm in a place where a minor can access it, even if the firearm is then used to injure or kill;
- Texas: It is an offense to fail to secure a readily dischargeable firearm. It is also an offense to leave the firearm in a place that one knows or should know that a minor could gain access and a minor gains access to the firearm. Here, a minor is a person under the age of 17. The crime is a misdemeanor.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Minor in Possession of a Gun Problem?
If you or a minor family member are charged with a criminal offense related to a minor possessing a firearm, you’ll want to consult a juvenile lawyer immediately.
An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific juvenile crime laws and will also be able to represent you in court as needed.