The Juvenile Court System for Minors Accused of Crimes
Almost every state in the United States has established a juvenile court system to handle the legal matters of minors. Typically, these legal matters fall into three categories including: (1) criminal matters; (2) abuse and neglect cases; and (3) truancy or delinquency cases.
The Minor Accused of a Crime
When a minor commits a crime, it is undoubtedly traumatic for the victim. However, it can also be shocking and painful for the youthful offender and for his or her family. It is thought that minors can be more easily rehabilitated than adults and that minors are not always responsible for their actions because they lack the mental capabilities of an adult. Therefore, juvenile courts were established to hear the cases of minors accused of crimes.
The age of children who are eligible to be tried under the juvenile court system varies from state to state. Typically, however, children under the age of seven are found to be too young to be in either the juvenile or the adult court system. Similarly, sometime between age 14 and 19, most states find that the accused are able to stand trial in adult court.
Most states will automatically process anyone under age 18 who is accused of a crime as a juvenile. A few states set that age limit at 16 and other states make the age limit contingent on the seriousness of the alleged crime committed.
What Happens to Youthful Offenders in Juvenile Court?
The answer to that question will depend on the state where the alleged crime was committed, the seriousness of the alleged crime and the strength of the evidence against the alleged offender.
In some circumstances, the case will go forward and the defendant will be tried as a minor in juvenile court. However, if certain circumstances exist then it might be possible for the minor to avoid formal charges. Usually, a juvenile judge and prosecutor will consider the seriousness of the crime, the alleged offender’s age, the alleged offender’s criminal record and the ability of the parents to control the child.
Sentencing in Juvenile Court
If a judge finds that the allegations against the minor have been proven then the judge will find the minor to be a youthful offender. Then the judge will decide the disposition of the case. If the minor is found not to be a threat to others then he or she may receive probation. However, if the minor has been found to have committed a serious crime then the minor will likely be sent to a juvenile correction facility. Juvenile correction facilities are supposed to provide an education and rehabilitation services for youthful offenders.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states may not impose the death sentence on youthful offenders under the age of 17 because to do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This reversed an earlier court ruling that permitted the death penalty for youthful offenders.
The juvenile court system has a simple goal. It is meant to provide the best possible future life for the children in its system. That is true whether the children are youthful offenders, victims of abuse or neglect or delinquents in need of protection from themselves.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.