In the juvenile justice system, offenders who are still minors are usually tried in a separate court reserved for minors. They are also typically channeled through correctional facilities that are maintained only for other minors. But in some cases, a minor can be tried as an adult. This can happen as a result of several factors, including:

  • The nature of the crime is so serious that it warrants treatment as an adult
  • The juvenile offender clearly understood the grave nature of the offense and its implications
  • The offender has a history of similar crimes
  • The offender has been tried as an adult before ("once and adult, always an adult" rule)

The traditional rule is that when a juvenile is under the age of 18, the juvenile will be tried in the juvenile court system. In recent cases, almost every state now allows for juveniles below the age of 18 to be tried as adults in certain circumstances and these rules vary from state to state.

At What Age Can a Minor Be Tried as an Adult?

The age at which a minor can be tried as an adult varies by state. For some states like California, anyone over 14 years old can be tried as an adult. In other states, the individual can be as young as 13, or as old as 15. Various factors can change the determination, especially prior juvenile criminal records. Also, some states allow a judge to exercise their own discretion when trying a juvenile.

When Can a Juvenile Be Tried as an Adult?

Usually a juvenile is tried as an adult in an adult court system because of the severity of the crime committed. Examples of serious crimes include murder, robbery with a weapon, and rape. Juveniles can be tried as an adult in some common ways. The juvenile case will transfer from the juvenile court to the adult court.

  • Direct File – Some states give prosecutors the power to decide whether a juvenile can be tried as an adult
  • Statutory Exclusion – Some states have laws that require a youth’s case to be tried in adult court – these laws transfer the case to adult court based on the juvenile’s age, the seriousness or type of crime, and the juvenile’s prior criminal record
  • Reverse Waiver – Crimes are more serious cases such as murder or rape, the assumption is that a juvenile should be tried as an adult unless the trial court rules that the case should be sent to juvenile court.

What Are the Advantages for Juveniles Tried as Adults?

Juveniles and their attorneys fight and try to keep the case in juvenile court. However, sometimes it can be advantageous for juveniles to be tried in adult court:

  • Juveniles have the right to a jury trial in adult court since most states do not provide a right to a jury in juvenile cases
  • Juries in adult courts may be more sympathetic on a juvenile since they are young
  • Juveniles could get lighter sentences in adult court depending on the state and jurisdiction

What Are the Disadvantages for Juveniles Tried as Adults?

Some of the disadvantages for juveniles to be tried as adults in adult courts include:

  • The juvenile can get a more severe sentence depending on the severity of the crime, including life sentences, while juvenile courts usually focus on rehabilitation.
  • Judges in adult court do not offer many forms of punishment and treatment options that are available to juvenile court judges – such as working on the juvenile’s rehabilitation and counseling. The juvenile may have to serve time in adult jail or prison, rather than in juvenile detention centers.
  • A conviction in adult criminal court carries more of an impact in a person’s life after jail than a juvenile court conviction.
  • Adult criminal records are more difficult to seal and expunge than juvenile court records since many juvenile records do not transfer to adult records at the age of 18.

What Are Some Penalties for Juvenile Crime?

Normally, juvenile crime leads to lesser penalties such as short jail time, slight fines, and sometimes community service or other alternative measures. House arrest is also a common option for many juvenile offenders, especially those charged with minor misdemeanors.

However, if the juvenile is tried as an adult, it can lead to penalties that are closer to those for adult felony convictions. These include increased jail sentences and fines. Also, the possibility for alternative sentencing options such as parole, probation, or community service programs because more unlikely if the minor is tried as an adult.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Juvenile Crime Issues?

Juvenile crimes often require specialized attention and direction from a legal professional. You may wish to hire a lawyer if you or a loved one of yours needs assistance with a criminal case. A qualified criminal law attorney in your area can provide you with legal advice and guidance for your specific situation. Also, your lawyer can advise you on possible defenses and sentencing alternatives that are available.