A distinct, yet parallel, criminal justice system exists for minors who are charged with or convicted of criminal offenses. The age at which minors are considered adults is commonly referred to as the “age of majority.” The age of majority is typically age 18, as it is in Florida. Minors in the juvenile justice system have traditionally been known as “juvenile delinquents,” or more recently and more accurately, “juvenile offenders.”
Most parents are surprised when one of their minor children is arrested, but it is important that they make sure their minor children understand their rights. Minors should know not to volunteer any information or answer any questions when arrested, aside from their name and basic information, such as a driver’s license or insurance card. They should immediately request to speak to you, and you should immediately call a Sarasota juvenile attorney. If you are unavailable, your children should request an attorney for themselves.
Common Juvenile Crimes
Some juvenile crimes are known as “status offenses,” which are offenses that are illegal simply because of age. In other words, status offenses would not be considered crimes at all if they were committed by an adult. Common status offenses include truancy, curfew violations, and underage drinking. Status offenses are commonly handled by social services agencies rather than the juvenile court system unless the minor has prior violations.
Other common juvenile crimes are the same as those for adults, the most common of which include:
- Larceny. In other words, theft. Theft is the most common juvenile crime. Shoplifting, for example, is common among juveniles because the items stolen are typically inexpensive and disposable, and petty theft often goes unnoticed or unreported. A primary concern is that if the shoplifting goes unnoticed or unreported, the lack of consequences may lead to more serious and expensive theft.
- Assault. It’s not unusual for minors to fight. Many fights occur at school, and the school typically handles the punishments for fights based on school policy, commonly including suspension or even expulsion. Assaults may also occur as a consequence of other crimes, such as purse-snatching, or other prohibited behavior, such as bullying.
- Sexual Offenses. Some minors commit sexual offenses. Often, they have been the victim of sexual abuse and are acting out sexually with others. Furthermore, an alarming trend among teen-aged minors is known as “sexting,” which is using a phone, computer, or camera to take or send provocative messages or images. Teens often lack critical judgment and send pictures that they soon come to regret. Most alarmingly, this can lead to charges of possession of child pornography. It is critical for parents to educate their teenaged minors regarding the serious and irrevocable nature of sexting.
- Illegal Purchases. Often considered a teenage rite of passage, minors often seek to engage in behavior legally reserved for adults, such as smoking and drinking. The legal issues arise when minors attempt to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, either through the use of fake I.D.s or convincing an adult to purchase for them. Particularly concerning is the purchase and/or use of illegal drugs, which can lead to addiction and arrests for possession. In the worst-case scenario, such behavior can lead to gang-related activities.
- Other Drug and Alcohol Crimes. Aside from possession charges, minors may be arrested for drug and alcohol-related crimes such as drunk and disorderly conduct or DUI. Many states have adopted a zero-tolerance policy in which any amount of alcohol is considered legally impaired for minors.
- Vandalism. Minors may commit acts of vandalism, such as graffiti, blown-up mailboxes, or even egging a house. Many minors are surprised that such behavior can carry legal consequences.
- Violent Crimes. Assault and battery, armed robbery, possession and/or use of firearms, auto theft, and even murder and school shootings have been committed by minors. These crimes can carry life-altering and permanent legal consequences.
Differences Between the Juvenile Justice System and the Adult Justice System
As discussed above, there is a significant overlap between juvenile crimes and adult crimes. Many juvenile crimes are considered misdemeanor offenses, yet minors may commit serious felony offenses. Still, the juvenile justice system exists for several reasons.
The primary difference between the two justice systems is their purpose. The juvenile justice system typically seeks to rehabilitate the juvenile offender and often offers alternative punishments to imprisonment, such as community service, educational courses, rehabilitation courses, and payments of fines. The adult justice system, for practical intents and purposes, primarily seeks to punish the offender and/or remove them from society.
Nonetheless, if an offense is serious enough, prosecutors may decide to try a minor as an adult in criminal court. In many jurisdictions, prosecutors have discretion when it comes to certain more serious offenses. Furthermore, the law in certain jurisdictions may require a juvenile to go before a criminal court if he or she has a particularly long juvenile record, or if past efforts at rehabilitation have not succeeded.
Other differences between the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system may include:
- Conviction vs. Adjudicated Delinquent. In most adult justice systems, if the defendant is found guilty, they are “convicted.” In most juvenile justice systems, the minor is an “adjudicated delinquent.”
- Sentence vs. Disposition. If a defendant is found guilty in the adult justice system, he or she will be sentenced. In the juvenile justice system, there is a “disposition” to determine what should happen to the juvenile.
- Where the Disposition is Held. In the adult justice system, the defendant has all of his or her hearings in the county in which they have been charged, which is typically the county in which the offense took place. In the juvenile justice system, the case is charged in the county where the offense took place. However, if the minor resides in a different county, then the disposition of the case is generally moved to the county of residence.
- Open vs. Closed Hearings. In the adult justice system, almost all hearings are open to the public. In the juvenile justice system, hearings are closed to the public and only the lawyers, the minor, and the family are typically present in the courtroom.
- Complaint vs. Petition. In the adult justice system, the defendant is charged in a “Complaint.” In the juvenile justice system, the minor is charged in a “Petition.”
- Juries. In most jurisdictions, a minor is not afforded a jury trial. Rather, the judge is the fact-finder at trial.
Contact a Sarasota Juvenile Attorney at the Fowler Law Group
The juvenile justice system is different than most people expect, and navigating the laws and rules can be intimidating. If one of your minor children has been arrested, a Sarasota juvenile attorney at The Fowler Law Group will help guide you through this difficult time. If you need our help please contact us online.