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.

Blended Sentencing for Utah Juveniles

There is a steady debate on whether or not Utah teenagers charged with serious crimes should face juvenile or adult penalties yet the answer isn’t always black and white; this is where blended sentencing comes in to offer another solution.

Adult crimes committed by kids

Blended Sentencing
Photo by: Rae Allen

With the threat of rising violent crimes among Utah juveniles and the desire for public safety, it may seem easy to sentence teenagers as adults and let them spend years to decades behind bars. This only solves a temporary problem of young violent offenders on the streets, yet it will create even greater problems of overly crowded prisons and kids who finish growing and maturing while behind bars with little to no rehabilitation.

Blended Sentencing

Blended sentencing is a way for the juvenile courts and adult courts to work together to give teens charged with serious offenses a chance for redemption while still under the control of the juvenile court. The teens are given a disposition order or sentencing through the juvenile court that can include treatment such as education and counseling following vital mental health and behavioral evaluations and testing while also dealing punishments such as detention, probation, and/or community service. The teens will also have a sentence for their crimes through the adult court that is temporarily taken off the table while they are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts.

Incentive for good behavior

A Second Chance
Photo by: Alyssa L. Miller

After the juvenile disposition or sentencing, teens who respond favorably to treatment and complete their terms in the juvenile system without any problems will not have to face the adult sentence waiting for them. They will finish their time in the juvenile system and be free, reformed adults. If they fail to resolve their criminal behavior and continue to commit other offenses during their juvenile disposition, the adult sentence is then brought back to the table and the teen may face time in adult jail or prison once they are of legal age and no longer in the juvenile system.

Teenagers deserve another chance

The adolescent years are a crucial time of growing and maturing during which most teens are still searching for their own identity while making plans for the future. Their future life as adults should not include incarceration for stupid mistakes they made as kids. Juveniles who are facing serious charges in which they could be charged as adults are encouraged to speak to a juvenile defense attorney about blended sentencing and rehabilitation versus imprisonment.

Utah Juvenile Murder Case Preliminary Hearing Set

Juvenile murder preliminary hearing set
Photo: Bgwhite/Wikimedia Commons

In the horrific case of the murder of a 15-year-old girl, a preliminary hearing has been set for March 2, 2015, almost three years exactly since the day her body was found in the Jordan River.

Murder Most Foul

On Sunday morning, March 11, 2012, Draper Police responded to reports of suspicious activity at a footbridge over the Jordan River. When they arrived, they found a bloody shoe on the bridge. A Utah Highway Patrol helicopter was called in, and at approximately 2 p.m., they spotted the body about a mile downstream from the footbridge. Search and Rescue recovered the body two hours later, and police were able to identify the body as that of 15-year-old Anne Kasprzak.

In October of this year, police arrested a Colorado teen for the murder for Kasprzak. They believe the juvenile was living in Utah at the time of the murder and was Kasprzak’s boyfriend. While theories have been proposed as to the motive for the boy’s actions, at this point, nothing solid has been proven.

The boy, now 17 years old and who has remained nameless in the media so far, is being tried in the 3rd District Court for murder and obstruction of justice, both felonies. However, prosecutors may seek to try him as an adult.

Murder Charges are Consideration for Adult Trial

There are several reasons a juvenile case may be tried in adult court, and in this particular example, two of those potential requirements have been fulfilled. The charges of aggravated assault or murder can bring about a waiver to adult court. In addition, other crimes that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult could also land a juvenile in adult court. Other considerations include the age of the juvenile at the time of the incident or the time of trial (typically over 16 years old) and the criminal history of the juvenile.

It has been estimated that approximately 250,000 juvenile are tried as adults annually. This is a serious consideration when choosing how to protect your son or daughter. If you child has been charged with murder—or any other offense serious enough to have them considered for trial in adult court—don’t leave their fate up to a public defender. Make sure to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney.

Utah Teen Considered Person of Interest in Southern Utah Homicide and How a Juvenile’s Case is Transferred to Adult Court

The teen is just 17-years-old, so is officially still a juvenile, although there are possible steps that prosecutors could take in attempting to have him declared an adult and requesting his case be moved to adult court if he ends up being arrested for the crime.

Steps to Take to Have Juvenile Certified as Adult in Utah

First, a prosecutor would file information alleging that a crime was committed which would have been a felony if committed by an adult. At that point, the juvenile court would conduct a preliminary hearing. At that hearing, the prosecution would have the burden of establishing that a crime was committed and that the defendant was responsible and that (with a preponderance of evidence) it would not be in the best interest of the minor or of the public for the juvenile court to handle the case.

There are several considerations that the juvenile court could base its decision on in such a matter, including:

* the seriousness of the offense and if the community would be better protected by the minor possibly serving a jail or prison sentence

* whether the alleged offense could subject the minor to enhanced penalties

* if the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated or willful manner

* whether the offense was against person or property

* the maturity level of the minor, including considerations of his home, environment, emotional attitude and pattern of living

* the record and previous history of the minor

* the likelihood of rehabilitation of the minor by use of juvenile court-available facilities

* whether the minor used a firearm

* if the minor used possessed a firearm on or about school premises

As you can see, there are many issues that can be taken into account where there’s a request to transfer a juvenile’s case to adult court. It’s vital that a minor’s potential for being incarcerated in adult prison not be taken lightly. To that end, if you have a child who’s involved in any criminal matter, you should talk to a Utah juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible.

Help Your Child by Getting Him the Legal Help He Needs

You can’t assume that your child’s best interests will automatically be taken seriously. It’s imperative that he or she be represented by a top defense attorney who is experienced in helping kids. Make that important call today.

14-Year-Old Sentenced to Adult Prison for Murders

Photo: Brian Turner

A 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy has been sentenced to adult prison for his role in the murders of his grandparents over a year ago.

The young man’s attorney had tried to keep his case in juvenile court to no avail. The jury selection process was underway when the boy pleaded guilty to committing both murders when he was just 13-years-old.

Why Commit Murder?

He allegedly was upset with his grandparents when he decided to shoot them. He first killed his grandmother, then his grandfather after he returned home. There may have been drugs and/or alcohol in the boy’s system at the time according to his parents, but that wasn’t confirmed.

Death Penalty Not on the Table

Because of the teen’s age, he wasn’t eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors were going to try him for two counts of first degree murder–which could have seen him in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Instead, the boy pleaded guilty to two counts of third degree murder, which in Pennsylvania means that the murders were not premeditated but were with malice. He will now be in adult prison for at least 33 ½ years, at which time he will be eligible for parole.

Adult Prison Not Usually the First–or Best–Option

In Utah, teens’ cases are rarely transferred to adult court, but it has been known to happen. Usually, teenagers are only sentenced to adult prison if it’s believed that they will be a threat to the general public. Of course, it’s unpleasant to think what potential threats face kids in adult prison.

Talk to a Utah juvenile defense attorney today if your son or daughter is in legal trouble. Don’t wait until your child’s case has been decided by others. Get them the help they need right away.