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.

Utah Teenager Arrested For First Degree Sodomy of a 3 Year old

A 14 year old teenager from Cedar City Utah was arrested for sodomy for sexually abusing his 3 year old relative.

Sexual abuse of a family member

Sodomy on a Child
Photo by: Matt Walker

The allegations of sodomy on a child stem from an incident that took place in the early part of December 2016 where the 14 year old teenager sodomized a 3 year old who was related to the teen, but not a living in the same home. The teen was charged with first degree sodomy on a child and referred to 5th District Juvenile Court.

First degree sodomy on a child

Utah Code 76-5-403.1 states “a person commits sodomy upon a child if the actor engages in any sexual act upon or with a child who is under the age of 14, involving the genitals or anus of the actor or the child and the mouth or anus of either person, regardless of the sex of either participant.” Sodomy on a child is a first degree felony.

No slap on the wrist for juvenile offenders

Many parents believe that when a crime is committed by a minor, the courts will show leniency or “go easier” on a juvenile. This is not always the case. In many instances, especially those involving first degree felonies, end up with the juvenile being charged as an adult. This is especially common in cases against 16-17 year old minors.

Juvenile defense attorney

If the Cedar City teenager in this case was tried as an adult for sodomy on a child, he would be facing imprisonment of 25 years to life or life without parole if the sexual abuse caused any serious bodily injury to the victim. If convicted as a minor he may still be incarcerated in juvenile detention until he reaches the age of 21. Either case would end in the boy being incarcerated before he is even old enough to drive and throughout at least the rest of his teen years. It is always best to consult with a juvenile defense attorney regarding any charges against minors, to obtain the best possible outcome with more treatment and less time behind bars.

Troubled Youth Responsible for Death of Rehab Staff Member

A troubled youth who was being held at a rehab in Escalante Utah is responsible for the death of a staff member at the youth crisis facility.

Troubled youth attempts an escape

Troubled Youth
Photo by: bark

17 year old Clay Brewer, whose name was released following adult murder charges, had only been at the Turn-About Ranch for less than a week when he tried to escape, killing 60 year old Jimmy Woolsey in the process. Brewer told investigators he was addicted to prescription pills and “lost his mind” as he was going through intense withdrawals. Brewer first attempted to take his own life the night before by drinking bleach, then decided the next day to make a run for it.

Beaten to death

Brewer somehow got hold of large metal pole or stick, perhaps something near the fire pit he was near along with other teens, and beat Woolsey to death when the 60 year old man attempted to stop him. He also hit another staff member a couple times until she gave him the keys to a car. Brewer then ceased his aggressive actions and sped off. After leading police on a high speed chase, Brewer was eventually stopped. Even then, the troubled youth tried to commit suicide by cop by acting as though he were pulling a gun on officers. Law enforcement officials did not take the bait and arrested Brewer instead.

Charged as adult

Photo Courtesy of Facebook
Photo Courtesy of Facebook

The 17 year old teenager who according to Facebook had a love of all things Major League Baseball was sent to Turn-About Ranch by his family most likely for his addiction to prescription pills. Instead of receiving treatment and returning to his family, Brewer is now facing a series of charges, including aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. In a withdrawal induced panic, Brewer took a life and will now probably lose his own to a lifetime behind bars.

Relaxed facility

While the hearts of all go out to the family of Jimmy Woolsey, it is difficult to not feel sympathy for Brewer and his family as well. There are many questions that Brewer’s family may be thinking such as:

• What was being done to help Brewer cope with his withdrawal symptoms?

• Why did he have access to dangerous items such as bleach and the metal pole?

• Should he have been in a stricter facility?
• What if he hadn’t been sent to the Turn-About Ranch in the first place?

While Brewer’s family is probably feeling guilt for their decision to send their troubled youth to a facility which is far more relaxed than others throughout the state, what’s done is done and now their son will face the consequences. Hopefully their troubled youth will now be able to get the treatment he needs to battle his drug addiction.