When Are Juveniles Tried as Adults?

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 What Is the Process for Trying Juveniles as Adults?

Each state has a system in place for juveniles. Some scenarios require the juveniles to be tried as adults to uphold justice in the case. This is considered case by case and is approved by the judge. Florida became one of the first states to allow juveniles to be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.

Generally, there are two types of direct files: mandatory and discretionary. The mandatory direct file depends on the suspect’s age at the time of the offense and the type of offense.

Under the discretionary direct file process, there are also requirements. This reviews the age as well and considers whether a violent crime occurred or if there is a crime involving motor vehicles. There can be additional requirements for this filing based on each jurisdiction.

According to the Ohio State Bar, a child is considered any person under 18. These minors can only be tried as an adult if the child was age 14 or older at the time of the offense. There is usually a felony charge for these cases. But, the court must hold hearings to decide whether or not the child can be transferred to another court for trial.

The process is called bind over, transfer, waiver, or relinquishment proceedings. In some cases, trying the child as an adult is mandatory, but in other cases, only the court can order it.

When Is a Trial as an Adult Required?

There are instances where the minor must be tried as an adult, as stated earlier. Trial as an adult is mandatory in certain serious cases. Below are some examples of when this would be appropriate:

  • If the charge is aggravated murder or murder, and the child is 16 or 17;
  • Or if the child is 14 or 15 and has been committed to a local Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility and;
  • If the charge is a specific serious felony offense and the child is age 16 or 17. Additionally, the minor was previously committed to a DYS facility or discharged a firearm while committing the offense.

If the court rules that these conditions exist and there is a high probable cause that indicates that the child committed the offense, the child must stand trial as an adult.

Once the transfer is ordered, the court will decide the bail terms. If the child is in detention, the child may be moved to the officer or detention facility for adults, provided certain conditions are met. After this, the authority of the juvenile court over that case is terminated. Once tried and convicted, any sentence of confinement is to an adult facility. For any probation, it has to be supervised by probation officers who supervise adult offenders.

When Can a Court Decide Whether or Not to Try a Child as an Adult?

There is a procedure for determining whether or not to try a child as an adult. However, the child must be at least 14 years of age at the time of the offense. Although the law does not mandate transfer, the court has a choice of whether to try a child as an adult. During this process, the court will first conduct a hearing to decide whether or not there is probable cause that the child committed the offense.

Later, the court will order an investigation and conduct another hearing to closely examine whether or not the child can be rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, the court needs to decide if the child can be subjected to adult penalties. For this determination, the court may evaluate the following factors:

  • Physical and mental maturity;
  • Age of the minor;
  • Any previous attempts and future potential for rehabilitation and;
  • Any harm suffered by the victim, firearm discharge, and public safety.

Moreover, if a firearm was discharged in the offense and specified in the complaint, the child needs to be committed to DYS and must serve additional time for using the firearm.

Lastly, in certain situations, the court may impose a “serious youthful offender” (SYO) sentence. For this sentence, a child is provided a juvenile sentence and an adult sentence (this is delayed). If the child completes the juvenile portion of the sentence, they may not need to complete the adult portion. However, if the child is at least 14 years of age and commits certain conduct or offenses while serving the juvenile portion of the SYO sentence, the minor can be sentenced to an adult correctional facility or adult probation.

What Is the Purpose of the Juvenile Justice System?

The purpose of the juvenile justice system in the United States is to encourage the youth to have better conduct and rehabilitation based on the requirements of each adolescent. However, the disciplinary method utilized by the juvenile justice system, as well as the inadequate conditions seen in detention centers, has hurt youth in the justice system.

There are heavy sentencing guidelines and little opportunity for rehabilitation for the youth. “The juvenile justice system needs to be reformed to provide more effective treatment and reduce mental health issues within youth who come into contact with the justice system, and fairly respond to adolescent behaviors,” as stated by the Juvenile Justice Organization.

The youth at that age are still learning and developing. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to irrational decision-making caused by impulsivity. The research within the Juvenile Justice Organization indicates that the child’s brain regions connected to impulse control and emotional maturity are still developing. It is unfair to treat them as adults when their bodies and minds are not fully developed.

The main priority of the justice system is to prioritize rehabilitation over retribution. Despite this research and evidence, there is an alarming number of youth in adult prisons. There must be a call for reform in the juvenile justice system and the process. The government should account for the youth’s needs at this age and their future. Although the juvenile system is in place to protect and maintain safety for the public, it could intentionally be creating unfair practices. There needs to be action taken to resolve this by local, state, and federal officials.

According to the American Bar Association, each state determines when an adolescent is no longer considered a juvenile and becomes an adult for criminal justice purposes. Generally, once the juvenile attains the statutory age and is charged with a crime, then they are tried as an adult.

According to Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy Practice & Statistics (GPS) information from 2015, most jurisdictions define age 17 as the highest age that an individual can have a case originate in juvenile court. Seven states use age 16 as the upper age for juvenile court jurisdiction. Even though there are variations in age, these youth will be tried as adults once the court decides it.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are a minor and have been charged with a crime, you must seek immediate legal assistance. There are options available to ensure you are protected while being tried in the juvenile justice system. The process can become complicated and requires legal action. If you are in this situation, do not hesitate to seek out a local juvenile lawyer to help you with your case.

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