Juvenile courts exist because it would be unfair, in most cases, for the justice system to treat children the same as adults. Minors have their lives ahead of them, and they can make mistakes because they are still learning about how the world works. However, the criminal court (adult court) can try a child under certain circumstances.
Juvenile vs criminal jurisdiction
The juvenile court usually tries teens and kids who are under 18 years old. The difference between juvenile and adult court is that juvenile court does not follow criminal procedures nor convicts minors of criminal acts as its process is civil in nature. This is because the main purpose of this court is to rehabilitate those minors who do something against the law. However, the authorities can send a teen to a criminal court instead of the juvenile court in some situations.
The court that will try the child will depend on their age, mental and physical condition and the crime they committed. The court will also consider whether the child’s behavior is suitable for juvenile treatment. For example, children under 15 go through the juvenile court system unless they commit a capital offense, and teens between 16 and 18 are always sent to criminal court if they are charged with first-degree murder.
Also, in some cases, teens can start in the criminal court and then move to the juvenile court while the authorities analyze their case. This can happen to teens between 16 and 18 that commit one of the following crimes:
- Abduction and kidnapping
- Second-degree murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Second-degree rape
- Second and third-degree sexual offense
- Robbery with a weapon
- Handgun offenses
- First-degree assault
The criminal court would not send a teen to juvenile court if they had a previous conviction for one of these offenses in the past. The same applies to teens who had a prior conviction for a capital offense.
The rights of teens
Before the teen moves between courts, there must be a hearing first. In both criminal and juvenile courts, the child or teen has the right to a lawyer. An experienced criminal lawyer can defend their case and prevent the teen from going to a penal institution with other adults.