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.

Utah Teen Fleeing Police in Stolen Vehicle Causes Fatal Accident

A Utah teenager fleeing police in a stolen vehicle caused a fatal accident in Santaquin on Sunday.

Fleeing in a stolen vehicle

Photo by: Scott Davidson

Officers from the Payson City Police Department were on the lookout for a stolen truck when an officer on duty spotted a 17 year old juvenile driving the stolen vehicle Sunday night. The officer attempted to pull the teen over, however the teen failed to stop on command and fled. Later that same evening another officer on I-15 near Santaquin attempted to pull the teen over when the teen again failed to stop for police, resulting in a pursuit. While evading the police officer, the teen left the interstate and collided with a vehicle, critically injuring the other driver. That other driver who was a 17 year old female later died from her injuries.

Felony charges

The teenage driver of the stolen vehicle was transported to the hospital for injuries sustained in the accident but will be transferred to the custody of a youth detention center upon his medical release. He will face numerous charges which could include:

• Theft of “an operable motor vehicle”, a second degree felony as stated in Utah Code 76-6-412;

• “Failure to respond to officer’s signal to stop . . . and while so doing causes death or serious bodily injury to another person” another second degree felony (41-6a-210);

• Other felony charges if it is determined the boy was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If the teen’s charges are transferred from juvenile court to district court, he may face several years behind bars. For legal support regarding juvenile cases or those that may involve both courts, contact an attorney that handles both juvenile and criminal defense 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.

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.