by Magnus Eriksson
Juveniles are treated a bit differently than adults under the law. Generally, the juvenile system is geared more towards goals such as rehabilitation and second chances, and the adult system more towards punishment for criminal acts. Usually, juvenile defendants are not entitled to a jury trial, instead their cases are “bench trials” where a judge determines whether they are guilty or not. Here in AZ, the judges in juvenile court are often very experienced judges who spend the last few years of their careers on the bench on a less hectic assignment than heavy civil or adult criminal trial dockets. That for the most part ensures well-measured actions in response to criminal acts. Prosecutors in juvenile court, on the other hand, are usually relatively inexperienced, although a few grizzled veterans are thrown in for good measure. The defendants in Juvenile court are under 18 years of age when the (alleged) crime is committed, (there may be exceptions in some states) but some times they can be incarcerated beyond 18 years of age. In federal court, a juvenile can in extreme circumstances be incarcerated until they turn 26!
The range of punishment for acts of juvenile delinquencies can lead to participation in diversion programs, a period of probation or incarceration in juvenile prisons. “Diversion “is a program where in exchange for successful completion of a class such as substance abuse treatment, shoplifting deterrence programs or violence intervention classes, the charge is dismissed. Juveniles can also be charged and punished as adults for serious crimes. If a crime is initially charged as a juvenile offense, then the state decides to charge the juvenile as an adult, the accused has a right to have a transfer hearing, which could lead to a judge denying the request for transfer. The kind of crimes where juveniles are charged as adults are things like murder, gang shootings, rapes, drugs sales, child molestation, vehicular manslaughter and the like.
Some charges are unique to juveniles, such as curfew restriction violations, under age alcohol possession or use. Other crimes, like criminal speeding are applicable regardless of age, the only difference being the nature of the proceeding.
Juvenile convictions do not count against the person after they come of age. Often the records are sealed and only available to law enforcement entities. This system enables a person who has been in trouble to start anew without a public record of their past. Adult criminal systems usually do not have this type of mechanism. Sadly many criminal defendants commit crimes at the age of just over 18 years old, which can cause difficulties the rest of their lives. In some states, some adult convictions can be expunged after a certain period of time.
This is not an option here in Arizona. Here, one can ask a judge to vacate and set aside the judgment. Voting rights are restored this way and gun rights can be, unless the conviction involved the violent use of guns. Some type of charges are not technically juvenile charges but still deal with offenses where the perpetrator is too young to do something such as minor in possession or consumption of alcohol. Such charges are often dealt with through diversion programs but other related types of charges such using fake ID to get into bars, being considered “a crime involving moral turpitude” can stay on ones record forever depending on how they were charged. Driving Under the Influence charges are another issue that can be charged as a juvenile crime, if the person is under 21, or it can be charged as an adult offense when the person is over 18. The Under 21 DUI requires only the presence of alcohol in ones system the alcohol need not impair one’s driving. These types of offenses typically cause collateral damage such as driver license suspensions, revocations or restrictions such as requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device, sometimes for several years. Additionally, car insurance rates can increase or policies can even be cancelled.
While juvenile misdeeds are mostly secret after the age of majority, contemporary America is so complex and there are laws against virtually all conduct, it is important to be aware that the collateral effects of a conviction are often more severe than the direct punishment. In today’s soft job market a past conviction can make it very difficult to get a job or at least a job to one’s hopes and qualifications. Therefore it is imperative that we teach our children to be alert and cautious and aware about what they should and shouldn’t do. Of course, this can be much easier said than done. Not only is it easy to become a perpetrator of crime, it is also easy to become a victim of a crime. The electronic means of communication are marvelous but they can also be used for nefarious purposes. Adults pose as kids and try to arrange meetings with minors, personal information is stolen or obtained through deception, and then is used to fraudulently obtain credit cards and other financial benefits. Kids take pictures of themselves naked and text them to their boy friend/girl friend and in so doing possess and distribute child pornography. They are both perpetrator and victim of a crime and often don’t realize it! People text while driving and cause an injury accident because of the resulting inattentiveness to what is happening on the road. Such crimes require no Intent to cause harm, just recklessness. Harassment, bullying and other despicable acts are perpetrated using texts, instant messaging and other electronic means of communication.
Sometimes the laws are underdeveloped in these areas, although many “old” laws are directly applicable to these types of crimes and successfully used to punish perpetrators.