When a juvenile (a person under the age of 18) commits a crime, the act is usually dealt with through the juvenile justice system rather than the criminal justice system which deals with those over 18. In some cases, the juvenile may be found unfit for juvenile court proceedings, in which case, the minor’s case will be transferred to the criminal justice system.
The juvenile justice system deals with offenses that are largely the same as those dealt with in adult courts. In California, for example, theft and burglary are crimes, and a juvenile who commits these offenses can face juvenile charges. Under state law, when a person under the age of 18 is alleged to have committed a crime, the judicial process under which the child is prosecuted, called a delinquency proceeding, is a civil action rather than a criminal matter. A juvenile convicted of a theft offense is considered a delinquent.
It is mandatory that a juvenile be transferred to adult criminal court when they have been charged with murder with special circumstances or for certain sex offenses. The juvenile must be at least 14 years old. Other crimes may also result in the juvenile court deciding to transfer the case to adult criminal court. The factors the court will consider include the gravity of the offense charged, the criminal sophistication of the crime, and the juvenile’s previous delinquent history. If the case is transferred to adult court, the juvenile is subject to the law in the same manner as an adult.
A minor is not entitled to a jury trial in juvenile court, only to an “Adjudication” (trial) in front of a judge. Although a delinquency proceeding is a civil action and not a criminal matter, a minor accused of a juvenile crime should retain a juvenile crime defense attorney for all proceedings in the juvenile court. This is because, in part, the burden of proof is the same for a minor in juvenile court as it is in adult court, that is, proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the minor committed the crime. The consequences of a minor accused of a crime can be serious and life-lasting and should therefore employ the same resources needed in an adult criminal matter.
Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman