When and Why Do Juveniles Get Sent to Adult Court?
In 1997, nearly 2.7 million youths were detained in a juvenile incarceration facility, and that number decreased by 74% by 2019. Reformations in state laws and work done by Morristown criminal defense lawyers have also decreased the number of juveniles sent to the adult court system. However, widespread juvenile detention and continued prosecution of minors in adult court continues to be an issue, and the experience could affect a child throughout the rest of their life.
When Do Juveniles Get Sent to an Adult Court?
Some state laws require that juveniles who commit certain crimes be prosecuted in the adult court system. In New Jersey, the court may send youths as young as 14 to adult court. If this happens, the juveniles are held in the same facilities as adult offenders, and they may face the same level of penalties as convicted adults. The prosecutor and judge are the ultimate decision makers in whether or not a particular juvenile will be required to appear in adult court.
What Types of Crimes Result in Juveniles Being Sent to Adult Court?
Judges and prosecuting attorneys have discretion to request a waiver for a juvenile to be sent to adult court. They may request this waiver for serious crimes, such as crimes involving weapons or the threat of violence. Sexual assault, drug offenses, robbery, and domestic violence are other examples of crimes that may result in a juvenile being prosecuted through the adult court system. If a juvenile is a repeat offender, this is another circumstance in which a waiver may be requested.
Reformations in the Juvenile Court System
In the 1980s and 1990s, courts and attorneys took a hardline stance on prosecuting juveniles in the adult court system. They may have wanted to set an example that no matter what the age, the seriousness of the crime should result in a serious penalty. However, advocates, child development and behavior specialists, and others realized that juveniles don’t have the same decision-making skills and maturity as adults. Mitigating circumstances, such as homelessness or absentee parents, also played a role in the changes in the juvenile court system.
Drop in Juvenile Prosecution in Adult Court
In 2010, about 10% of felony crimes committed by juveniles were sent to adult courts for prosecution. By 2019, this decreased to about 2%. In 2020, many courts shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incarceration facilities were a common source of large outbreaks, and the rate of juvenile prosecution in adult court dropped to 1%. Some analysts believe that this was a result of court shutdowns, while others suspect that the judges and attorneys wanted to provide some level of protection for youth who weren’t yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.
What Happens to Juveniles Who Commit Crimes?
When a judge or attorney doesn’t refer a juvenile to an adult court for criminal prosecution, they have other options. The juvenile court system is the most common way of processing juveniles who commit crimes. Attorneys or judges may also recommend other facilities or programs. For example, youth who are engaged in gang activity or other violent activities might be sent to a community program. Youth who commit drug offenses might be sent to a residential rehabilitation program for addiction.
Reasons to Keep Juveniles Out of Adult Court
Prosecution in adult court changes a juvenile’s life forever. They may be exposed to more violence, sexual assault, or criminal behaviors. A juvenile who spends time in a prison for adults may be more likely to reoffend and may also have a more difficult time gaining employment or turning their life around.
When your child is facing criminal charges, it’s important to consult with a Morristown criminal defense lawyer. To schedule a consultation at the Morristown, New Jersey law office of Gregg Wisotsky, call 973-898-0161 on weekdays or 908-229-9714 after hours and on weekends. You may also fill out our online contact form, and we will reach out to you to schedule a consultation.