When Juveniles are Charged as Adults

When a teenager commits a crime, their family may be shocked to discover the minor could be charged as an adult.

Juvenile court

Photo by: Francois Marcotte

Most charges brought against minors will be dealt with in juvenile court, where through education, rehabilitation, and treatment there may be a greater chance of earlier reintroduction to the public without extended time under house arrest or in juvenile detention. There are some instances when charges against minors are taken out of juvenile court however, leaving young teens to face similar penalties that adults would.

Serious felonies

Utah Courts states “There are several circumstances under which a juvenile may be tried in adult court. These include cases where the juvenile is fourteen years or older and has been charged with a serious felony.” Utah Code 78A-6-702 lists some of these serious felonies as:

i. “Aggravated arson
ii. Aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury to another;
iii. Aggravated kidnapping;
iv. Aggravated burglary;
v. Aggravated robbery;
vi. Aggravated sexual assault;
vii. Felony discharge of a firearm;
viii. Attempted aggravated murder; or
ix. Attempted murder; or
(b) [a felony offense with a dangerous weapon when there is a prior incident involving a felony offense with a dangerous weapon].”

Charged as an adult

Once it has been determined that the minor is facing one of these serious felonies, the “judge shall consider only the following:

i. Whether the minor [is repeat felony offender with a dangerous weapon];
ii. [if more than one person is involved], whether the minor appears to have a greater or lesser degree of culpability than the co-defendants;
iii. [if the minor’s role in the offense] was committed in a violent, aggressive, or premeditated manner;
iv. [prior legal trouble];
v. Whether public safety and the interests of the minor are better served by adjudicating the minor in the juvenile court or in the district court [and where they are best able to be rehabilitated].

Legal help for families of minors

Many Utah families expect leniency in court for their children and are surprised when teenagers ends up facing charges in district court where there is the possibility of years in prison. For this reason it is imperative to never assume the system will work in the favor of a minor and instead obtain the legal aid of a qualified defense attorney with experience in handling juvenile and district court cases.

Once an Adult, Always an Adult – Juveniles in the Adult Court System

Once an adult, always an adult. This phrase is used to describe what happens to juveniles in Utah when they are convicted in the adult court system.

Serious Youth Offender Act

Photo by: PRSA-NY
Photo by: PRSA-NY

When a teenager 16 years of age or older (and sometimes younger) is charged with serious offenses listed in the serious youth offender act, there case can be transferred to the adult district court. The crimes which can send a juvenile to adult court are found in Utah Code 78A-6-702 and include:

“(a) Any felony violation of:

(i) aggravated arson;

(ii) aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury to another;

(iii) aggravated kidnapping;

(iv) aggravated burglary;

(v) aggravated robbery;

(vi) aggravated sexual assault;

(vii) felony discharge of a firearm;

(viii) attempted aggravated murder; or

(ix) attempted murder; or”

(b) any subsequent felony offense involving the use of a dangerous weapon.

Charged as an adult…and then what?

So what happens to those under the age of 18 years old once they’ve been charged as an adult for one of the above crimes? Well, according to the state of Utah and 33 other states, they are no longer considered minors. Utah Code 78A-6-703 states “when a minor has been [found guilty] to the district court ( . . . ), the jurisdiction of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and the jurisdiction of the juvenile court over the minor is terminated regarding that offense, any other offenses arising from the same criminal episode, and any subsequent misdemeanors or felonies charged against the minor ( . . . ) the district court retains jurisdiction over the minor for all purposes, including sentencing.”

Once an adult, always an adult

Once an adult, always an adult
Photo by: meesh

The above statute is known informally as “ once an adult, always an adult  “. This means that once a juvenile case has been transferred to adult district court, if the juvenile is found guilty, they will from there on out be considered adults for any other crime committed. According to a bulletin posted by the U.S. Department of Justice, once an adult, always an adult laws “are a special form of exclusion requiring criminal prosecution of any juvenile who has been criminally prosecuted in the past-usually without regard to the seriousness of the current offense.”

Keep things in juvenile court

An attorney who has experience in both juvenile court and adult district court knows how differently sentencing is carried out by each court and how drastically crimes are handled from that point out. This knowledge is why so many juvenile defenders fight to keep cases in juvenile court if possible. For more information regarding serious offenses by minors and how to keep kids out of adult court, contact a reputable juvenile defense attorney.

Differences between Juvenile Court and Adult Court in Utah

When a teenager in Utah is charged with a crime, it can be handled by either the juvenile court or the adult court and it is important to know the differences between the two.

Juvenile court

Juvenile Court or Adult Court
Photo by: State Farm

Although the juvenile court handles cases of criminal activity by minors, it is a civil court where the goal is not to punish kids but to teach and rehabilitate them while also ensuring that they are not a danger to the community. Utah Code 78A-6-102 states: “The purpose of the [juvenile] court is to:

(a) promote public safety and individual accountability by the imposition of appropriate sanctions on persons who have committed acts in violation of law;

(b) order appropriate measures to promote guidance and control, preferably in the minor’s own home, as an aid in the prevention of future unlawful conduct and the development of responsible citizenship;

(c) where appropriate, order rehabilitation, reeducation, and treatment for persons who have committed acts bringing them within the court’s jurisdiction;

(d) adjudicate matters that relate to minors who are beyond parental or adult control and to establish appropriate authority over these minors by means of placement and control orders;

(e) adjudicate matters that relate to abused, neglected, and dependent children and to provide care and protection for minors by placement, protection, and custody orders;

(f) remove a minor from parental custody only where the minor’s safety or welfare, or the public safety, may not otherwise be adequately safeguarded; and

(g) consistent with the ends of justice, act in the best interests of the minor in all cases and preserve and strengthen family ties.”

Adult criminal court

If a teenager is charged with a felony listed under Utah’s Serious Youth Offender Act (78A-6-7), their case can be transferred to adult court where they can face serious repercussions including hefty fines and lengthy imprisonment. Offenses that are included in the Serious Youth Offender Act include:

• aggravated cases of arson;
• assault;
• kidnapping;
• burglary;
• robbery; and
• sexual assault; as well as
• felony discharge of a firearm;
• attempted aggravated murder; or
• attempted murder; or
• any subsequent offense involving the use of a dangerous weapon;

Juvenile defense attorney

Unfortunately in adult court, it is less lenient that juvenile court and those facing adult criminal charges should expect their sentencing to include more punishment without so much focus on education and rehabilitation. Additionally, once a case goes to adult court, those records which include the juvenile’s name are released to the public. For these reasons, it is imperative that juveniles and their parents and/or guardians seek counsel from a criminal defense attorney who has dealings with both the juvenile court as well as the adult court, and who will try diligently to keep all cases against minors within the juvenile court jurisdiction.

Juvenile Recidivism in Utah

When a juvenile is arrested shortly after being released for a previous offense, it is known as recidivism and continues to be a problem among the youth in Utah.

More than half re-offend

According to a study done by the Utah Criminal Justice Center in 2013, over half of all juvenile offenders return to incarceration within a year of being released from either community placements or secure facilities. The purpose of juvenile offender programs and detention facilities should be to help assess the needs of youth and get them the help they need to ensure the youth are capable of living in the community with a lowered risk of further criminal charges. If half of the youth are returning, the programs are not working.

Causes of juvenile recidivism in Utah

There are several possible causes for juvenile recidivism in Utah; the study by the Utah Criminal Justice Center along with other sources highlights a few of the key components that are consistently lacking among all types of treatment options put forth by the Juvenile Justice Services of Utah.

• Lack of continued mental health and substance abuse screening. Juvenile offenders will often go through initial mental health and substance use screening, yet these assessments should be continued at least biannually throughout the youth’s incarceration or detention to ensure they are receiving the adequate treatment for their specific needs to reduce their risk of recidivism.

• Communication gaps. The Juvenile Justice Services and the Juvenile Courts need to ensure that all information pertaining to a juvenile individual is shared entirely to ensure that all the needs of the youth are met to help them benefit fully from their treatment which in turn should help reduce some cases of recidivism.

• Adequate training for staff. All staff employed by the Juvenile Justice Services, from those who work in early intervention to those at the detention facilities should receive training on a regular basis to help them effectively use the results of all assessments to understand a youth’s risk level as well as their specific needs and how to incorporate treatment to fulfill those needs.

• Utilizing programs that work. There are several different programs available for youth through the Juvenile Justice Services. Some of them have a better track record than others. Those programs that are failing to successfully reintroduce youth into the community without a high risk of recidivism should not be used as often as they are.

Research options and be informed

Parents with youth who have been arrested for an offense need to speak to a juvenile defense attorney immediately to discuss not only defense options, but also effective treatment programs that may need to be implicated to help the youth avoid recidivism.

Lack of Remorse May Encourage Adult Charges

Having a lack of remorse about a crime may encourage a judge to charge a juvenile as an adult.

Sorry, not sorry

Photo by: Maddie Photography
Photo by: Maddie Photography

When a juvenile commits a crime, the prosecution may discuss whether or not the youth should be charged as an adult. This is most often the case for more heinous crimes such as murder. When a juvenile has a lack of remorse for the crime, it is harder for his defense to prove him to be nothing more than an immature person who made a big mistake. Showing a lack of remorse may spell out a criminal nature, or a sociopath in the making.

Not something to brag about

Even if a juvenile shows remorse in the courtroom, what he does prior to that will be taken into account. Youth who brag about their crime to peers or continually blame the victim in the case may be accused of lack of remorse and therefore struggle to prove to the judge that they feel sorry. Remorse should begin the second the crime has been committed, or once the shock of the situation wears off. Any action contrary to that will be noted by authorities and may be used against the defendant.

Counseling suggested

Photo by: Bridget H
Photo by: Bridget H

Frequently, youth who are responsible for causing pain or death of another may be in denial of what they have done or their brain may block out the event to protect their mental wellbeing. For this reason, the accused may appear as though they have a lack of remorse, when in fact they are merely dealing with the crime as they would any other tragic situation, by blocking it out. When this is the case, counseling may help them to come to terms with the charges and their grief so they can feel and show their remorse. For any youth who are facing possible adult charges, it is important to speak with a juvenile defense attorney immediately.