If you are under age 18 and have been charged by police with committing a crime, you may automatically assume your case will be tried in juvenile court, thus virtually guaranteeing you a lighter sentence if convicted. However, the road ahead may not be as you anticipated. In more and more states across the United States, juveniles who commit various types of crimes are being tried as adults in regular court. Should you be wondering how this may apply to your situation, here are some factors that will determine which court hears your case.
Nature of Your Crime
If the crime you committed is considered to be extremely serious and resulted in severe injuries or deaths to others, you can be virtually assured your case will be heard in regular court rather than juvenile court. The major exception to this might be if your lawyer can prove to the court that you did not comprehend the seriousness of your actions, but this can often be a tough sell.
Your Prior Criminal History
If you have a prior criminal history that involves crimes that have escalated in their seriousness, prosecutors may decide you have graduated to adult court based on your actions. While your lawyer can argue on your behalf that you are still technically a juvenile based on your age, demonstrating a pattern that seems to show you are having little trouble committing more serious crimes will certainly not be to your benefit.
Once an Adult, Always an Adult
Should you have already been tried as an adult in the past, plan on this trend continuing after your latest criminal act. Often referred to as the “once an adult, always an adult” rule, it is a sure bet that your attorney will need to present an incredible set of circumstances to the court in order to see your case pushed back to juvenile court.
Since laws vary from state to state, it is possible you may have committed a crime in a state where the local prosecutor has what is known as “prosecutorial discretion,” meaning they have the legal authority to use their own opinion and judgement to decide which court will hear your case. If this is the situation where you live, you will need an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can negotiate with a prosecutor to reach a decision that is best for everyone involved.
As many states have decided to crack down on violent crimes, they have enacted what are known as statutory exclusion laws. When these laws are in place, it means a case where a minor is accused of committing a particular type of crime is automatically required to be heard in adult court. Should you face this, your attorney can petition the court to have your case returned to juvenile court via “reverse waiver,” although this is rarely successful in such situations.
Even if you are a juvenile offender and your case is destined for adult court, this does not automatically mean you will be convicted and sent to prison for decades. Since you will have the right to a jury trial in adult court, you and your lawyer may be able to use this to your advantage. To know what to expect, always listen to your lawyer.