The Juvenile Justice System

The difference between the juvenile justice system and the adult criminal justice system is enormous. In a perfect world, children would never commit crimes or even get into trouble of any sort, but the fact is that they do. Minors of all ages commit criminal offenses either knowingly or without comprehension of what they are actually doing. The law finds itself in an awkward situation in these cases because its main function is to protect citizens from crime and to deter people from committing them, but it is not as easy to deal with criminals who are minors as it is with adults and getting a criminal defense lawyer will help with this situation.

Initially, the juvenile justice system will focus on rehabilitation as a means to try to get through to a minor who has gotten himself or herself into trouble in the hopes that this minor can be saved from a path of crime and everything that comes with it. But not all offenders who are minors will take advantage of the rehabilitative opportunities that the juvenile justice system is willing to hand them and can soon find themselves in even worse trouble with much more severe consequences.

How Does the Law Define a Juvenile?

The Juvenile Justice System treats offenses that are committed by minors as “delinquent acts” rather than outright crimes in order to differentiate between minors and adults. Another difference that stands out is that juveniles are given “adjudication trials” instead of the criminal trials that we see adults go through when they commit a crime. In most states, a juvenile is a person under the age of 18, although it is 16 in some. Once the person reaches this age, their treatment as a juvenile has come to an end and they will be charged as adults if they commit another criminal act. 

The consequences that they have been used to after getting in trouble will now become a lot harsher. However, there are times when minors begin to be treated as adults by the law even years before reaching their state’s age limit (16 or 18.) This happens when a minor commits an extremely serious criminal act such as murder. At that point, the law cannot hold itself back and simply slap the minor on the wrists for his crime; the minor will be charged as an adult and suffer the full consequences for his or her actions without any protection because of age. Furthermore, some laws follow a ”once an adult, always an adult” mentality that means that once a minor has been charged as an adult for one offense, he or she should continue to be charged as an adult for any future offenses, effectively ending his or her protection as a minor.

Juveniles Enjoy More Rights During Legal Proceedings

Obviously, juveniles are granted much more protection than adults after committing a crime since it is assumed that they did not fully comprehend the full extent or implications of their actions…even if they really did. Juveniles have the right to an attorney and even a public defender if they or their family cannot afford to hire one in order to defend them, but, in most states, they do not have a right to a trial by jury since they are minors; instead, it is a judge who completely decides their fate. Juveniles also get to enjoy a lot more benefits than adults for committing and being convicted of the same crimes. 

The biggest benefit is that they will usually not be facing anywhere near the time that adults have to face. Yet another benefit that juveniles enjoy is that once they become adults, their records are usually wiped clean so that they are not affected by them for the rest of their lives, basically giving them a fresh start without any legal blemishes that could harm their future prospects if they choose to live a life free of any legal trouble form then on. Of course, a lot of them do not change their ways at this point and that ends in them having to deal with more serious charges than they are used to since they will be charged as adults.

Juvenile Punishment is Becoming More Severe

As we mentioned, there is no jury at all in a case that involves a juvenile, so a judge will have to decide whether the minor is guilty or not, and what sentenced should be imposed on the offender. Every state has sentencing guidelines that a judge must follow when dealing with a minor so that he or she cannot punish the minor too severely. Furthermore, the goal of sentencing a juvenile offender has mostly been about rehabilitation in most states up until very recently. Certain states have virtually given up on the hope of being able to lead juvenile delinquents out of a life of crime with the rehabilitation programs that they once had in place and begun to focus more on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

There are a lot of people who favor this approach because they feel that juvenile delinquents simply do not learn when they are slapped on the wrist and just keep committing crimes of rising severity. Others believe that we should still try to do everything that we can in order to rehabilitate minors who fall into the wrong path. No matter which point of view one might think is more valid, juvenile courts are certainly becoming harsher when it comes to sentencing minors.

The Importance of Hiring an Attorney

If your child or another minor in your family has been charged as a juvenile, it is very important that you seek legal counsel for his or her sake as soon as possible because the consequences can be severe. A good defense attorney can convince a judge that a minor should be given an opportunity at rehabilitation and does not deserve to be punished. This is especially important if it is the minor’s first time facing such a situation because it can be instrumental in deterring him or her from continuing to fall into such a path. Without an experienced attorney who cares about the child’s well-being, the judge might not be inclined to be lenient. 

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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