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What Is a Juvenile?
While many constitutional rights apply equally to minors and adults, like free speech and the right to have legal representation, other laws differ depending on the age of the person committing the criminal offense. How old is a juvenile? While this definition varies among states, California law considers juvenile offenders to be between the ages of 12 and 18.
What Is Juvenile Law?
Juvenile law is a unique legal specialty dealing with crimes committed by minors, which tend to have different definitions and less severe consequences than offenses committed by adults. For example, “status offenses” like truancy and curfew violations only count as criminal acts when minors commit them.
In general, the legal system treats juveniles somewhat more gently and focuses on rehabilitation instead of punishment. For instance, a judge may order an underaged offender to complete community service or pay a small fine instead of serving a prison sentence alongside adults. For more serious crimes, minors may spend time in a juvenile correction facility, where they will continue receiving an education and have access to counseling services that support their social and emotional development.
While charging a minor as an adult is rare, it can happen in severe cases such as rape and murder. Ultimately, the prosecutor is responsible for deciding whether to pursue this course.
What Is Juvenile Court?
Juvenile court has some similarities to an adult proceeding, but it is less formal overall and typically does not involve a jury trial. Additionally, the judge doesn’t rule a minor guilty or innocent. Rather, if they find a juvenile committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, they will sustain the district attorney’s petition. With relatively slight offenses like shoplifting, the judge may also agree to dismiss the charges after a period of good behavior or completion of informal probation.
Originally, juveniles who committed crimes did not have access to legal representation, limiting options and oversight for cases that entered America’s juvenile justice system. In 1967, the Supreme Court case in re Gault changed juvenile court governance by ruling that the 14th Amendment’s due process clause applied equally to minors and adults.
As our knowledge of behavioral science continues evolving, so does the juvenile justice system. For instance, we now know that the human brain is not fully developed around age 25, which means juveniles tend to have a diminished capacity for making rational decisions compared to adults. This research has been instrumental in changing how the criminal justice system handles crimes committed by minors and required the adoption of new rules and standards for law enforcement interrogation of underaged offenders, among other things.
Protect Your Child With Experienced Legal Representation
While juvenile law tends to be less punitive, having a criminal offense on record, even as a minor, can cause repercussions into adulthood. However, California allows many underaged offenders to seal these records once they turn 18, essentially erasing the crimes as if they never happened.
If your child has committed a juvenile offense, contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh to arrange a complimentary consultation. As a former district attorney and prosecutor, Katie Walsh has handled thousands of juvenile cases and is also an expert in school disciplinary cases. Your family deserves reliable representation when your child’s future is on the line.