The Ultimate Guide to Juvenile Crime

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 What Is a Juvenile Crime?

A juvenile crime is an illegal act committed by a person under the legal age of majority, typically 18. Unlike crimes committed by adults, which are processed through the adult criminal system, juvenile crimes are usually addressed through the juvenile justice system.

This system emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment, with the understanding that young individuals have a greater potential for change.

Are There Different Types of Juvenile Crime?

Yes, juvenile crimes can vary in severity. On one end, there are status offenses, which are actions that are illegal only because of the minor’s age, like truancy or running away from home. On the more severe end, if the crime is more serious, like rape or murder, it’s treated with higher gravity even within the juvenile system. There are also juvenile delinquency cases, which include crimes that would be illegal regardless of age.

Most Common Juvenile Crimes

Some of the most common juvenile crimes include shoplifting, underage drinking violations, and grand theft.


Shoplifting is one of the most prevalent juvenile crimes. It involves taking merchandise from a retail store without paying for it. While often perceived as a ‘minor’ offense, the consequences of shoplifting can be significant, particularly if the individual has multiple offenses. Retailers lose billions annually due to theft, which drives them to press charges even for first-time offenders.

For a juvenile, a shoplifting charge might lead to mandatory community service, fines, or even detention in more severe cases. Beyond the legal repercussions, a shoplifting incident can leave a mark on a young individual’s record, potentially affecting future employment or college applications.

Underage Drinking Violations

Underage drinking violations refer to the illegal consumption, possession, or distribution of alcohol by individuals below the legal drinking age, which is typically 21 in the United States. The ramifications of underage drinking are multi-faceted.

Apart from the obvious health risks, young people found guilty of such violations might face fines, mandatory alcohol education classes, or even a suspension of their driving privileges. Furthermore, alcohol-related incidents like DUIs or accidents can intensify the severity of the penalties.

Grand Theft

Grand theft is a more serious offense, where juveniles unlawfully take someone else’s property, typically with a value above a specified threshold. The distinction between grand and petty theft usually hinges on the value of the stolen item(s). For instance, stealing electronics, vehicles, or large sums of money falls under grand theft.

Given its gravity, the consequences are notably harsher. Juveniles found guilty of grand theft can face time in detention centers, hefty fines, and restitution to the victims. Additionally, the emotional and psychological impact on the young offender and their family can be profound, especially when facing potential incarceration.

While these offenses might seem minor compared to more severe ones, the courts take them seriously. More serious crimes, such as certain felonies, can lead to severe consequences for the juvenile offender, especially if the court deems that they should be tried in the adult criminal system.

Juvenile Court System

The juvenile court procedures differ from the adult criminal system. The juvenile court is more protective, aiming at the child’s best interests. Rather than focusing on punishment, rehabilitation is emphasized, providing the necessary guidance, education, and services to help the minor correct their behavior.

Here’s how the juvenile court system demonstrates its protective nature and emphasis on rehabilitation:

  • Intake Process: When a juvenile is first taken into custody, they undergo an intake process. This typically involves a probation officer or another court representative assessing the minor’s background and the specifics of the alleged offense. Based on this assessment, the officer might recommend formal court action or suggest alternative resolutions like counseling or community service.
  • Informal Proceedings: The juvenile court system often leans towards informal resolutions when dealing with minor offenses. Instead of a formal trial, the young offender might attend a conference with their parents, the victim, and a probation officer to agree on a plan for restitution and rehabilitation.
  • Detention vs. Adult Jail: Juvenile detention centers are generally utilized instead of adult jails when the minor needs to be detained. These centers focus on education and counseling and are structured to be less punitive than adult correctional facilities.
  • Adjudication Hearing: Unlike the adult criminal system with jury trials, juveniles typically have an adjudication hearing before a judge. The judge then determines whether the juvenile is delinquent. This process is less adversarial, emphasizing understanding the behavior’s reasons and determining the minor’s best course of action.
  • Disposition Phase: If a juvenile is found to be delinquent, the court enters the disposition phase, akin to the sentencing phase for adults. Here, the judge might order various rehabilitation measures, such as counseling, treatment programs, educational services, or community service. Incarceration in a juvenile detention center is generally a last resort reserved for more serious offenses.
  • Confidentiality: Records in the juvenile court system are often sealed or expunged upon reaching adulthood, ensuring that early mistakes don’t haunt an individual for life. This isn’t always the case in the adult system, where criminal records can be permanently stained.
  • Review and Aftercare: Post-disposition, the juvenile might be supervised, similar to parole in the adult system. Here, the emphasis remains on ensuring the minor receives support to reintegrate into society and continue their path toward positive change.

While the adult criminal system is largely retributive, focusing on punishing the offender, the juvenile court system is vital. It seeks to understand the underlying causes of delinquent behavior, aiming to equip them with the tools, education, and support they need to become responsible and productive members of society.

Constitutional Rights of Juveniles

While juveniles do not have all the same rights as adults, they are still entitled to fundamental constitutional protections. This includes the right to an attorney, the right to avoid self-incrimination, and the right to notice of the charges against them. However, juveniles often don’t have the right to a jury trial or bail like adults do.

Why Is It Important to Address Juvenile Delinquency?

Addressing juvenile delinquency is important for several reasons. Early intervention can prevent a minor from continuing down a path of criminal behavior into adulthood. Also, it helps protect society by addressing and rectifying behaviors early on and ensures that young people get a chance at a brighter, crime-free future.

What Laws Help Protect Juvenile Children?

Several laws aim at the juvenile protection and rehabilitation of minors. These laws often ensure that juveniles are treated fairly within the judicial system and that their rights and well-being are prioritized.

Here’s a deeper dive into some of these protective laws:

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)

First passed in 1974, the JJDPA provides federal standards for treating and caring for juvenile offenders.

One of its primary tenets is the “deinstitutionalization” of status offenders. This means youths who commit acts only illegal due to their age, such as truancy or curfew violations, shouldn’t be placed in detention facilities.

The act also emphasizes keeping juveniles separate from adult offenders in detention facilities and seeks to address the challenges faced by minorities in the juvenile justice system.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

Though not directly tied to the juvenile justice system, COPPA plays a pivotal role in protecting minors’ privacy online. The law limits how personal information from children under 13 can be collected and used by websites and online services.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)

This act addresses the protection of children from abuse and neglect. While its primary focus isn’t on juvenile offenders, CAPTA plays an indirect role by providing federal funding to state programs that prevent child maltreatment, a factor that can lead to juvenile delinquency.

State Specific Laws

Every state has a juvenile code outlining the procedures for handling juvenile offenders. This includes intake procedures, criteria for detention, conditions of juvenile facilities, and guidelines for rehabilitation programs.

Some states have “extended jurisdiction” laws that allow the juvenile system to retain jurisdiction over into their adult years if they were adjudicated as.

Several states have also implemented “graduated sanctions,” which offer a structured system of penalties based on the severity of the offense and the youth’s delinquent history.

Requirements to Be Tried as an Adult

While the juvenile justice system handles most juvenile crimes, in certain severe cases, like homicides or other major felonies, the court might decide to try a juvenile as an adult. This decision is often based on the nature of the crime, the age of the offender, and their previous delinquent history.

Can Parents Be Held Responsible for the Acts of Their Children?

In some jurisdictions, parents can be held legally accountable for the actions of their children, especially if they have shown negligence in supervising or guiding them. This means parents might face legal repercussions, fines, or be required to pay restitution in some cases.

Here are some common scenarios where parents might face legal repercussions due to the actions of their children:

  • Property Damage: If a child deliberately damages someone else’s property, parents might be required to compensate the owner for repairing or replacing the damaged property. Examples include vandalism, graffiti, or breaking windows.
  • Theft: Should a juvenile steal something, parents may be mandated to pay restitution to the victim, covering the cost or value of the stolen items.
  • Truancy: In cases where a child consistently skips school without a valid reason, parents can be fined or even, in extreme cases, face jail time for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The belief is that parents are responsible for ensuring their child attends school regularly.
  • Underage Drinking: If parents knowingly allow underage drinking to occur in their homes or on their property, they can be held liable, especially if someone gets injured as a result.
  • Weapons at School: Should a child bring a weapon to school, parents might face penalties, especially if it can be proven they were negligent in securing the weapon.
  • Shoplifting: In some jurisdictions, if a child is caught shoplifting, parents might be liable for civil penalties and the cost of the stolen items.

Understanding local laws and consulting with an attorney can clarify the specific conditions under which parents might be held accountable for their children’s actions.

Seeking Legal Help

If you or a loved one is facing charges within the juvenile system, securing experienced legal counsel is wise. To get the best-tailored assistance, consider contacting a juvenile lawyer through LegalMatch. We have attorneys ready to protect the rights and the best possible outcome for the juvenile involved.

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