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.

Three Juveniles, One Adult Arrested for Vehicle Burglary Spree

Juvenile vehicle burglary spree
Photo: Kafziel/Wikimedia Commons

Four Cedar City residents, one adult and three juveniles, who were involved in a vehicle burglary spree spanning from August to October were taken into custody in December. On Tuesday, Jan. 20, the adult in the group, 19-year-old Reagan Gurbal accepted a plea agreement for four of the 26 original charges.

Vehicle Burglary from Cedar City to Southern California

According to an article in the Cedar City News, Gurbal seemed to be the ringleader of a group of underage accomplices in the vehicle burglary incidents that allegedly occurred between Aug. 15 and Oct. 18. Cedar City Police connected him to at least 19 of 40 burglaries that took place between those dates, and after being arrested, Gurbal admitted to burglarizing approximately 20-25 vehicles in just one night.

Gurbal allegedly provided a meeting spot for the “gang” to meet both before and after each night of vehicle burglary. At the end of the night, the group would split up the goods stolen during the night. Gurbal also allegedly provided a location to store the stolen goods, which included money, electronics, jewelry, and even firearms.

On Oct. 18, Gurbal and another suspect left Utah and met with other juveniles in Las Vegas, where the vehicle burglary spree continued into Southern California. On Oct. 22, Gurbal and three juveniles—a 14-year-old male, 16-year-old female, and 17-year-old male—were arrested in Victorville, CA.

Gurbal was originally charged with 26 different counts, mostly dealing with theft or burglary, however four of the charges dealt with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His plea agreement was for two class A misdemeanors of vehicle burglary, a third degree felony theft of receiving stolen property, and second degree felony theft charge. Details haven’t been released as to punishment for the juveniles involved in the case.

Vehicle Burglary Doesn’t Require Breaking In

According to Utah Criminal Code 76-6-204, any person who unlawfully enters any vehicle with intent to commit a felony or theft is guilty of vehicle burglary. However, what is important to understand is that it doesn’t require actually breaking into a vehicle; simply reaching through an open car window to take something that doesn’t belong to you falls under this criminal code.

As mentioned in regards to Reagan Gurbal, vehicle burglary is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 if committed by an adult. If your child has been charged with vehicle burglary, be sure to contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney.

Burglary Convictions for All in Church Vandalism

burglary charges in church vandalism
Photo: The Center for Social Leadership

Two adults involved in the vandalism of an LDS church in October of 2014 were sentenced Monday, Jan. 5, after pleading guilty to burglary and theft. A juvenile who was with them has also entered admissions of burglary and theft in juvenile court.

Familiar Signs and Footprints

On Oct. 15, Tristan Joseph Peterson Hirst, Denver Timothy Bell, and an unidentified 17-year-old entered an LDS church in Duchesne County. According to a report from KSL News just after the incident, it was unclear how the three got into the church as there was no sign of forced entry. However, once inside, doors were kicked in, a filing cabinet was forcibly opened, and several areas of the church were defaced with red spray paint and permanent marker. In addition, church medallions, pins, and approximately $500 were also taken.

Within two days, police had tracked down the suspects after one of the Duchesne County sheriff’s deputies recalled seeing the anarchy symbol which had been spray painted in several areas of the church at the home of Hirst. The officer had been to Hirst’s home for a previous investigation. Shoe prints on the scene also matched Hirst’s shoes. After being detained, Hirst confessed and implicated Bell and the 17-year-old of the burglary as well and then told officers where they could retrieve the stolen goods.

Hirst was sentenced to 60 days in jail, and Bell was sentenced to 30 days in jail for burglary and theft. Both men were fined $900 and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to repair the damage. The 17-year-old also entered admissions in juvenile court to allegations of burglary and theft and will be responsible for a portion of the restitution.

Burglary Can be Very Serious for Juveniles

According to Utah Criminal Code, burglary is defined as entering or remaining unlawfully in any building or portion of a building with intent to commit a felony, theft, assault, sexual battery, lewdness, or voyeurism. While the theft in this case was considered a misdemeanor based on the value of the stolen good, burglary when committed by an adult is considered a third degree felony or even a second degree felony when it occurs in a home.

A juvenile who commits a felony and is over 16 years old can be considered for trial in adult court. If your child has been convicted of burglary—or any other crime—consult with an experienced juvenile defense attorney who will look out for the best interests of your child.

Shoplifting Recidivism Reduced Through Orem Program

Shoplifting Recidivism Reduced
Photo: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

Shoplifting can be a big problem with juveniles, especially when it comes to potential legal repercussions. However, an Orem based program is aiming to reduce shoplifting recidivists [repeat offenders] through an education course as opposed to simply calling the police. Local police say they are on board if it means less prosecution of first-time, minor offenders.

CEC Aims to Educate

According to a report from KSL News, Corrective Education Company (CEC) is “a platform retailers can use on a mobile tablet when they catch someone shoplifting within the store.” Once the crime has been committed, the retailers can offer the offender the opportunity to sign up for an online course instead of calling police. However, even if they sign up for the course, the shoplifter still has to sign an admission of guilt and have their fingerprints and picture taken using the mobile platform.

[The article didn’t specify how this would be handled with a juvenile offender.]

Once the students are signed up for the online course, their participation is monitored through photos taken when the student signs in and out, as well random “pop quizzes” on the material the student is supposed to be learning. If the student fails to complete the class, the shoplifting case is turned over to the police. Currently CEC is operating in 1,000 retail locations in 30 states, and CEC has claimed it has helped to reduce shoplifting calls to police nationwide by 42 percent.

Detective Mark Falkner of the Salt Lake City Police Department believes CEC is a good idea if it can stop people from re-offending and reduce their case load. “It’s going to get those people who really aren’t the criminal type, they maybe just made a mistake once or they are someone who normally wouldn’t do that.”

Shoplifting Statistics and Punishment

According to Falkner, shoplifting can be a gateway to other types of more severe crimes such as burglary or robbery. This is supported by a report from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. NASP reports that approximately 25 percent of shoplifters are teens, and 55 percent of adult shoplifters say they started shoplifting when they were teens.

Because most items shoplifted are valued under $500, shoplifting is considered a class B misdemeanor. According to Utah Code 78B-3-108, both the minor who committed the shoplifting and the parents or legal guardians “are jointly and severally liable in civil action to the merchant” for actual damages, a penalty in the amount of the retail price of the merchandise (not to exceed $500), an additional penalty determined by the court between $50 and $500 and court costs.

So perhaps CEC is the way to go. However, if your child doesn’t have that option or if they have had more than one run-in with shoplifting, make sure you contact an experienced and sympathetic juvenile defense attorney who will look out for their best interests.

Juveniles May Face Adult Burglary Charges in Utah School Burglary

Potential Adult Burglary Charges
Photo: Michael Coghlan

Three juveniles were arrested last week and one is still being sought in connection with a burglary at Logan High School on August 14. In addition to burglary charges, the juveniles could also face charges of criminal mischief.

Smile for the Camera

According to a report from KSL, Logan Police Capt. Tyson Budge stated that the burglary at Logan High School occurred at approximately 12 a.m. on August 14. The main lobby of the building was open as a result of the school being under construction. Four teens entered the school and stole thousands of dollars of computer equipment. In addition, Budge reported that the teens also discharged fire extinguishers in the school, causing additional damage with could rank in the thousands of dollars as well, possibly resulting in criminal mischief charges.

Fortunately for law enforcement, while the school may have still been under construction, surveillance cameras were in operation at the time. Logan Police posted the surveillance videos to their Facebook page on August 15, and within a week, all of the juveniles had been identified by tips from community members and three of them had been taken into custody. The fourth individual has also been identified but is still being sought in connection with the crime.

Potential Adult Burglary Charges

There are several reasons a juvenile may be charged as an adult. In the case of these four teenagers (ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old), the factors that could contribute to this type of prosecution are the fact that they all have extensive criminal histories (one of the juveniles was actually already on probation) and the fact that they committed a crime which would be considered a felony if committed by an adult.

In this case, according to Utah Code 76-6-202, burglary occurred because the juveniles entered or remained unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a theft. If convicted, burglary is considered a third degree felony.

This case serves to underscore the importance of an experienced juvenile defense attorney. If your child is in trouble with the law and this isn’t their first time, don’t leave their fate in the hands of a public defender. Consult with a trusted, compassionate juvenile defense attorney who has your child’s best interest in mind.