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