Juvenile Crime occurs when a “juvenile” (someone under the age of 18) commits a criminal offense. The juvenile crime system is separated from the adult criminal justice system and is more forgiving of offenders.

But, a juvenile may be tried as an adult if the juvenile has committed a particularly serious offense (rape, murder, etc.) or the juvenile is a repeat offender. Almost every state has its own set of rules and procedures for juvenile crimes.

A juvenile case is a civil case where a judge will ‘adjudicate’ (meaning hear evidence and decide on legal issues) to determine whether the juvenile has committed a ‘delinquent act’ (guilty of a criminal act).

The adjudication is similar to a criminal trial in many ways, including presenting evidence from the police officers involved and hearing from other witnesses. Unlike a typical criminal case, a judge, not a jury, decides whether a juvenile is guilty of a delinquent act. The juvenile is considered ‘delinquent’ if they are found to have committed a delinquent act.

What are Typical Punishments for a Juvenile Crime?

After deciding a juvenile is guilty, the juvenile justice system then sentences the juvenile. Sentencing is the stage in a criminal case where the judge decides what the punishment will be. The juvenile system has a broad range of sentencing options, which give judges the flexibility to determine what is best for the juvenile. Generally speaking, a sentence can be either incarceration or non-incarceration.

Incarceration means that the juvenile’s freedom is restricted. Typical incarceration sentencing options include:

  • Home Confinement: The judge orders a juvenile to remain home for a set period of time with some exceptions (attending school, attending school, seeing a doctor).
  • Placement with Someone Other than a Parent/Guardian: The judge can remove the juvenile from a particular home environment by requiring the juvenile to live with a different relative or live in foster care.
  • Juvenile Detention Halls: The judge can order the juvenile to stay in a detention facility for juvenile offenders. A stay can vary from short periods (less than three months), to long periods (at least six months or several years).
  • Adult Detention Facilities: In some instances, the judge may order the juvenile to stay in facilities for adult populations (like county jail or state prison).

Non-Incarceration, in contrast, are alternative means to rehabilitate the juvenile while still permitting the juvenile to enjoy more freedom than an incarceration option. Non-Incarceration sentencing options include:

  • Monetary Fine: The judge may order the juvenile to pay money to the government, or compensate victims with money.
  • Counseling: The judge may require the juvenile to attend counseling, either in one-on-one settings or in group settings.
  • Community Service: The judge can order the juvenile to complete community service.
  • Electronic Monitoring: The judge may order a wrist or ankle bracelet that the juvenile will have to wear at all times.

    • Electronic monitoring is becoming common, as it allows an individual to avoid direct supervisor (meaning some form of incarceration).
  • Probation: The judge may order the juvenile to complete a probation program. Probation is one of the most common sentences for juveniles.

    • Probation can require a juvenile to do certain things (like complete community service or attend school) or refrain from certain things (getting into more trouble or staying out past certain times).

A judge may use a combination of incarceration and non-incarceration sentencing options when sentencing a juvenile. Each juvenile case has different facts and thus the punishment varies from case to case. The facts of a particular case impact the outcome, meaning it may be smart to discuss the case with a lawyer.

Can a Juvenile Decision Be Appealed?

Juveniles, like adults, have a right to appeal a criminal sentence. A court of appeal is a higher court than the adjudicating judge and can review the adjudicating judge’s decisions.

Further, the appeals court can reverse the lower court or change various aspects of the lower court’s orders. In the context of juvenile cases, an appeal could reverse a finding of delinquency or change the terms of a sentence.

Besides an appeal, a juvenile can ask the judge to reconsider their previous opinion. The judge retains authority over the case should they need to change their orders in the best interest of the juvenile.

For instance, a judge may change an order to attend school if a better school becomes available for the juvenile to attend. A juvenile can ask the court to change the order rather than wait for the judge to do it of their own accord.

Should I Have a Lawyer for a Juvenile Case?

A juvenile sentence can be serious, impacting a juvenile and their loved ones . Having a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in juvenile law might be a smart choice. A skilled lawyer will provide you with detailed information about your case, options for routes to pursue in the case, and discuss likely outcomes.