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.

Fourth Graders Facing Felony Arson Charges for Torching School Shed

Two fourth graders are facing felony charges for arson after torching a shed near a school in St. George Utah.

Photo by: Bastian

Flammable shop supplies

Fire crews responded to a report of an outbuilding on fire near Pine View Middle School in southern Utah last Tuesday evening. Upon arriving, authorities confirmed that the building on fire was a shed which housed numerous supplies for the nearby shop class. The shed and supplies were a complete loss, nearby windows to the school were blown out from the heat, and the fire was determined to have been arson.

Poor use of time

The two arson suspects, a 9 year old and a 10 year old, were observed on video surveillance and were determined to be the sole participants of the arson. The children were too young to be students of the school and had likely just started the fire for fun or out of boredom. Little did they know, their poor use of free time resulted in thousands of dollars in damage to the school and felony arson charges for them.

Photo by: Dani Vázquez
Photo by: Dani Vázquez


Utah Code 79-6-102 states “A person is guilty of arson if ( . . . ) by means of fire or explosives, the person unlawfully and intentionally damages (. . . ) the property of another.” The charges for arson can vary from a class B misdemeanor to a first degree felony (aggravated arson), depending on the cost of the damage and if anyone was harmed. Although no one was hurt in the school shed fire, the damage to the shed and supplies exceeded $5,000. For this reason, the two elementary school students in St. George are facing 2nd degree felony charges.

Do you know where your children are?

It is known at this time how long the children were without adult supervision, but it doesn’t take long for them to get into trouble. It is always a wise decision to keep close tabs on kids, especially those not mature enough to be trusted to make good decisions. For those times when youth commit crimes while out of parent’s radar even for a brief moment, a juvenile defense attorney is recommended.

Utah Firework Laws

With the 4th of July around the corner, kids are eager to get their hands on the biggest festive explosives out there; however everyone needs to be aware and abide by Utah firework laws in place.

Photo by: Adam Carter
Photo by: Adam Carter

Age restrictions

No child under the age of 16 is permitted to handle or light fireworks in the state of Utah. All firework activity by teens 16 or older should be done while under adult supervision. Younger children are recommended to watch and enjoy fireworks from a safe distance.

Firework permitted zones

With little to no precipitation and extremely hot conditions around the state, almost every tree and shrub is a potential fire hazard. For this reason The Utah Department of public safety has listed firework restrictions and maps for most cities and counties in the state. Fireworks are allowed in these zones but are only lawful between July 1-7 and July 21-27. Even in permitted zones, there are precautions that parents and older children should take to prevent a fire.

  • A fire extinguisher, hose, or bucket of water should be readily available in case of problems.
  • Fireworks should never be used in washes or any area of dense brush and trees.
  • One firework at a time. Discard duds, never relight.
  • Only use fireworks that are permitted in the state of Utah and never buy from an unlicensed vendor.
  • Protect yourself and onlookers from injury by wearing protective eyewear and having a designated spot to light the fireworks away from crowds.
  • Never use fireworks in a state or national park, as they are prohibited.

Avoid penalties for unlawful firework use

Parents and kids need to be educated on Utah firework laws and appropriate areas for safe firework fun. For those that fail to follow Utah firework laws or for those that cause damage to wildlife, buildings, or persons due to neglectful use of fireworks, criminal penalties may ensue. For legal assistance in handling adult or juvenile criminal charges related to fireworks, contact a defense attorney today.

Teenager High on Meth Starts Home Fires

Earlier this month, a teenager who was high on meth started two home fires in Harrison Township, Pennsylvania. 19 year old Sean Hallam got high on cough syrup and meth and went out looking for trouble. Hallam made what’s commonly called a firebomb or a poor man’s grenade that has a mixture of flammable materials and a wick. This concoction Hallam prepared was used to set two random homes on fire. One home was completely consumed by the fire. This first fire almost killed a grandmother and her 18 year old grandson, who were among two families living in that residence. Fortunately, witnesses were able to save them in time. The fire at the second home was discovered quickly and extinguished.

Photo by: Pablo
Photo by: Pablo

High and bored with time to “kill”

Many home fires started by teenagers are accidental. Seen frequently is a teen with a lighter, too much time on their hands, and ignorance. In these cases, teenagers may be charged with arson, if charged at all. When the fires are set on purpose and put others in danger, those charges can change dramatically. In the case with Sean Hallam, even though he was under the influence of meth, he willingly committed arson to homes that were undeniably occupied. Because of this he is also being charged with 8 counts of attempted homicide.

News flash-Teenagers make poor decisions

Teenagers are known for making decisions that are immature and thoughtless. Meth and other drugs will decrease a teenager’s ability to think clearly and forecast outcomes to their poor choices. If your teenager is facing charges for decisions they made while high on meth or other narcotics, contact a criminal defense attorney to hopefully get your son or daughter a stint in a drug treatment facility instead of jail.

Potential Arson Charges for Teens Involved in Vacant Building Fire

possible arson for teens in vacant building
Photo: Emilio Kuffer/Wikimedia Commons

Four teenagers may be charged with arson after the Jan. 26 fire at a vacant apartment complex in Salt Lake City. The building, which was already scheduled for demolition, was ruled a total loss.

The Need for After School Programs

According to a report from KSL News, on the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 26, witnesses reported hearing a commotion inside the vacant, city-owned apartment complex located near State Street and 3300 South. Three boys and a girl were reportedly seen fleeing the building just before the fire started at approximately 4 p.m.

According to South Salt Lake Police Chief Jack Carruth, when fire crews arrived at the scene, the apartment building—one of three two-story apartment buildings with eight units each—was completely engulfed in flames.

“We’re fortunate it wasn’t occupied at the time of the fire,” Carruth told KSL.

Carruth said that two firefighters received minor injuries while fighting the fire but were expected to recover. The four teenagers were located following tips from witnesses, and even though the witnesses placed the ages of the teens between 17 and 19 years old, all four were 14 years old. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is currently screening the case to decide on potential arson charges.

Arson Charges Depend on Damage, Injury, Previous Convictions

According to Utah Criminal Code 76-6-102, arson occurs when a person “by means of fire or explosives unlawfully and intentionally damages any property with intention of defrauding an insurer, or the property of another.” Arson ranges from a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if committed by an adult, to a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The determination in the case of arson results from the extent of the damage, whether anyone was injured as a result of the fire, and if the suspect has any previous convictions. For example, the class B misdemeanor charge would result from damage less than $500 with no injuries or previous convictions, while the second degree felony would result from either damage over $5,000, the fire causing serious bodily injury to another, or if the damage is between $1,500 and $5,000 but the suspect has had another conviction.

If committed by an adult, this case would most likely be considered a second degree felony, even though the building was already scheduled for demolition. While a juvenile can be tried as an adult if they commit a crime which would be considered a felony, the juvenile has to be over 16 years old. However, this is still a very serious charge for a juvenile. If your child has been charged with arson, make sure to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney.