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The Juvenile Justice System

When Do Juveniles Get Tried as Adults?

Juvenile courts typically hear those cases that regard individuals between ages 10 and 18. In some states, the higher boundary of that age bracket might be lower. If the prosecutor in a case decides to charge an older juvenile with a very serious or violent type of criminal offense, the district or prosecuting attorney may request that the state court for adults actually try the juvenile as an adult. In some jurisdictions, juveniles who are age 14 and older and who are charged with serious crimes (for example, murder, rape, or armed robbery) are processed in the adult court system. The only exception to this rule happens when the judge might transfer the defendant back to the juvenile court for trial.

How Are Juvenile and Adult Criminal Proceedings Different From One Another?

Juveniles do not have a constitutional right to jury trials on a general basis. The exception to this lack of a jury trial right occurs when a juvenile is tried as an adult. As a result, judges are the triers of fact in almost every juvenile case. Additionally, juveniles do not have the right to have a public trial, nor do they have the right to obtain bail.

In the majority of U.S. jurisdictions, juveniles are not deemed to have actually committed what is legally defined as a crime. Instead, most states consider that juveniles commit what is called a delinquent act. Admittedly though, the delinquent acts committed by juveniles would be defined as crimes if they were done by adult offenders.

The trial phase of a juvenile's criminal case is called an adjudication hearing. At these hearings, the judge listens to the evidence presented and makes a decision whether the minor is delinquent in his or her conduct and actions. The court is permitted to take whatever action it considers to be necessary to protect the child's best interests in the particular situation. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal and objective is to rehabilitate the youth rather than to inflict a punishment, penalty, or sanction upon the minor.

How Is a Juvenile Proceeding Like an Adult Proceeding?

The basic premises of due process apply equally to juvenile proceedings as they do in adult criminal trial proceedings. The state has to prove its charges against the minor beyond a reasonable doubt for the applicable legal standard of proof, the same as the burden applicable to the trial of adults in criminal cases. Also, a minor who is charged in a juvenile proceeding is deemed to be entitled to receive and be afforded the following protections and rights:

  • notice of charges provided in advance of any adjudication
  • assistance of counsel provided, including an attorney paid for by the state if the minor's family cannot afford to retain and pay counsel
  • rights to confront and cross-examine witnesses in the proceeding
  • rights to claim Fifth Amendment privileges and protections against self-incrimination in proceedings