Angiulo: When and How Juveniles Face Adult Criminal Penalties
Monday, October 28, 2013
Typically, people between the ages of 7 and 18 years old who face criminal charges will have them addressed in Juvenile Court. That court is governed by a statute, which explicitly treats children “not as criminals, but as children in need of aid.” As such, the proceedings of juvenile court are not deemed criminal proceedings.
The exceptions to this rule are when a felony offense occurs and the offender is between the ages of 14 and 18. The juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over cases in which a youth between 14 and 18 years of age is charged with first or second degree murder, therefore the prosecution moves forward as if the defendant were an adult. Instead of filing in juvenile court, the complaint is often filed in district court prior to the facts being presented to a grand jury and the case proceeding in Superior Court. In the Superior Court the defendant will face indictment under the same murder statute as everyone else and, therefore, face the same penalties, including life in prison.
There are, however, some other situations when a juvenile will face adult penalties for their actions. In these occasions 14 to 18 year-olds are charged with a crime punishable by state prison time and the defendant has either previously been committed to the department of youth services or has committed an offense involving infliction or the threat of serious bodily harm. In these circumstances the Commonwealth has the ability to proceed against the juvenile by an indictment seeking adult penalties for the crime committed.
This procedure is known as prosecuting the juvenile as a “youthful offender” and makes meaningful differences during the trial and pretrial stages. First, unlike most cases in juvenile court, youthful offender records are available for public inspection. In addition, a trial of any juvenile charged by indictment will be open to the public. Public access includes members of press and this is a marked difference from the ordinarily closed proceedings of the Juvenile Court.
Juvenile Proceedings are occasions when the court has the opportunity to use its authority to, very often, redirect a defendant's life for the better. Many people would agree that, for the most part, kids who find themselves in Juvenile Court may need additional help in their lives because of circumstances beyond their control. Some circumstances are, however, controlled by individuals and some individuals do terrible things. The legislature has drawn a distinct line in the sand when it comes to Youthful Offenders and Murder Indictments as to when people, even juveniles, should face punitive consequences for their actions. Law Enforcement, including District Attorneys Offices, are granted a distinct ability under the law to hold these offenders accountable through our courts.
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