State and federal governments act as the prosecutors in the criminal justice system, filing claims against those suspected of committing a crime. Typically, a criminal defense lawyer represents the defendant in the case, defending them against those accusations. When the person suspected of committing the crime is a minor under 18 years old, they must seek representation with a juvenile defense attorney.
The criminal justice system legally treats minors differently than adults with regard to the specific laws and regulations that will be applicable in their case. Most minors are, therefore, tried in juvenile court, though in cases involving minors over 14 years old who have committed violent or serious crimes, the minor may be tried as an adult in a regular court.
For What Types of Offenses Can a Juvenile Be Charged?
Experienced juvenile defense attorneys are generally fluent in defending against many different types of violations. For a juvenile, the type of offense matters just as much as the specifics of the offense and will have an impact on the case. There are two general types of offenses:
- Delinquency offense. A juvenile will be charged with a delinquency offense for any crime that would be a violation to commit, regardless of whether the child is a minor. In a delinquency offense case, the fact that the defendant is a minor only has a bearing on the manner of the penalty.
- Status offense. A juvenile will be charged with a status offense if the offense is only a crime as a direct result of being committed by a minor. In these cases, the fact that the defendant is a minor is what makes the act a violation.
In delinquency offense cases, the juvenile court judge will ascertain whether the nature of the offense or the history of the defendant warrants trying them as a juvenile or as an adult. Common delinquency offenses include:
- Drug offenses
- Driving while under the influence
- Criminal trespassing
- Possession of weapons
- Sexual crimes
A juvenile court will nearly always try a minor as a juvenile for a status offense due to the fact that these offenses would not be violations if they were committed by an adult. Common status offenses include:
- Underage drinking
- Underage marijuana usage
- Underage use of tobacco products
- Truancy, or skipping school
- Violating local curfew hours
When Would a Minor Be Tried as an Adult?
In court, a juvenile court judge will generally assess the following factors when determining whether the minor should be tried as an adult or a juvenile:
- Severity of the crime. Committing murder, rape, or other serious or violent crimes is often enough reason for a judge to move to try the defendant as an adult.
- Sophistication of the execution. Juveniles are often granted legal leniency as minors because their actions are considered momentary acts of foolishness characteristic of their presumed immaturity. However, if a crime committed was done so in a well-planned and thought-out manner, this may sway the judge to reconsider their categorization.
- Rehabilitative potential. The judge will weigh out what they consider to be the minor’s potential to effectively rehabilitate upon completion of their sentence.
- Criminal history. If the defendant already has a history of criminal offenses and previous attempts to rehabilitate have failed, the judge may move to try them as an adult instead.
In almost every case, the legal proceedings will begin in the juvenile court system, moving up only if deemed necessary. A juvenile defense lawyer, therefore, remains the most effective representation for any minor, no matter what charges they are facing. A skilled and qualified attorney can develop a strong defense that takes all the details of your particular case into consideration.
What Defense Options Are There for My Child?
While every case is unique, all juvenile defenses tend to revolve around demonstrating that your child lacked the same judgment or self-awareness that an adult would have had in the same situation. By proving this fact, their case will stay in the juvenile court system, may carry less severe penalties for a conviction, or may avoid a conviction altogether.
When presenting a defense before the court, your juvenile defense lawyer may be able to demonstrate, depending on the unique details of your case, that your child:
- Acted as the result of undue influence by others. If the crime was committed as part of a group or in concert with others committing related crimes, your attorney may be able to demonstrate that your child was pressured into committing the crime in question.
- Has an impairment or other cognitive disability. Lacking the physical capacity to maintain the same judgment as an adult is a credible defense, depending on the child’s personal medical history and condition.
- Lacks any prior criminal history. Particularly for minors, judges will generally be more supportive of rehabilitative consequences over prosecution or incarceration if the charges represent a minor’s first alleged violations.
- Is of good repute and has otherwise been falsely accused. This last defense is strong, especially when there’s evidence to support their innocence. If your child has, in fact, committed no crime, the court will likely be more easily swayed if it is shown a history of the minor showcasing solid character traits.
If your child has faced a recent arrest, it is imperative that you seek immediate legal counsel on their behalf. The strongest defenses begin as soon as possible. This allows your juvenile defense attorney to gather evidence and interview witnesses as close to the time of the incident as possible.
What Are the Potential Penalties for a Juvenile Offense?
Despite the assumption that juvenile courts are more lenient on minors, this tends not to be the case—especially when the minor is found guilty. Judges will pursue what they believe to be just prosecution of any and all criminal violations, no matter by whom they are committed.
However, a judge will tend to offer rehabilitative sentences more often for juvenile defendants in step with matching the consequences with the age and maturity of the offender. This results in common penalties, such as:
- Informal probation. This agreement does not require the child to admit to having committed the crime and establishes an informal arrangement with the court to follow probationary supervision for a brief period of time.
- Formal probation. This arrangement requires formal supervision, either at home or at a designated camp. A probation officer would be assigned the case, and certain standards would need to be met to complete the probation.
- Rehabilitation at a facility. Depending on the circumstances, a judge may deem it most beneficial to the child to undergo some form of treatment at a medical center aimed at youth in crisis.
- Juvenile detention center time. Most judges will favor rehabilitative penalties, and your attorney can work to encourage alternative sentencing to incarceration. However, in some cases, some amount of time served in a detention center may be deemed necessary.
Generally, younger people have more time in their lives than adults in which to turn things around, changing their attitudes and behaviors for the good. For this reason, your child’s defense attorney will pursue all available legal options to avoid detention and encourage sentences that seek to provide that opportunity to change.
Thankfully, California courts are increasingly seeing these alternatives as being in the interest of the child.
Your Moreno Valley Juvenile Defense Attorney
Watching your child go through trial can be incredibly stressful, especially when you are unsure of what the outcome, and thereby their future, will be. Just like any other criminal defendant, however, your child has the right to a fair trial and diligent, qualified defense representation.
For a criminal defense lawyer with direct experience handling juvenile cases involving individuals under 18 years of age, consider the team at My SoCal Lawyers. Our skilled and qualified attorneys can work with you and your child to uphold your rights and pursue the most favorable outcome, no matter the charge. To discuss your case, contact our office and receive answers to any of your questions. Get started with your juvenile defense today.