If a person under has committed a crime, but is under the age of 18, this can greatly affect their journey through the US legal system. Individuals under the age of 18, also referred to as minors, will have different legal options depending on their age, type of crime committed, and whether they are a first time offender.
For example, if a judge determines that a crime is minor, and the child has a parent or guardian who is generally a good disciplinarian, then a judge may allow the juvenile to return home under routine visits from a probation officer, as opposed to sending the juvenile to facility. In California, these types of decisions are made at disposition hearing, although a different name may be used in different states. However, before minor’s case can get to the point of a disposition hearing, it must first be determined whether the minor can tried as a juvenile, or as an adult. There will be a hearing court hearing, sometimes called a “Fitness Hearing,” where a judge will determine whether the minor is “fit” to be tried as an adult or as a minor.
Generally, a minor will only be tried as an adult for serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery with a weapon, and drug crimes. Also, depending on the state, there will be a specific age requirements whereby a juvenile can be tried as an adult. In California, one must be at least 14 years old to be tried as an adult. If the minor is tried as an adult and convicted of the crime, then they can be sentenced to an adult correctional facility (prison), whereas, a minor tried as a juvenile cannot be sentenced to an adult prison. In many states, even if a minor is tried as an adult and convicted, they may still be sent to correctional facility, as a opposed to adult prison. In California, and minor under the age of 16 who has been convicted of a crime as an adult will likely start their prison term in a juvenile facility.
This distinction between whether a minor is tried as a juvenile or as an adult is also important as it relates to court records. Many states have special courts or special divisions within the state trial court system that handles juvenile cases which are typically called the Juvenile Court. Records from cases handled by a Juvenile Court are almost always confidential and therefore not public records. Juvenile court records typically will only be released to officers of the court, certain agencies, or by a court order. However, if a court deems that a minor should be tried as an adult, then their case will be handled by a Criminal Court. In most cases, criminal records are public records, even if the person being charge is under 18 years of age.
While there is often much debate about the type of information that should be available to the public, especially involving minors, most would argue that if a judge deems that a minor should go through the adult criminal system, then the minor’s records should also be treated as adult records. It can be frightening, because, as a society, we generally want to protect the young. Yet, perhaps it is fair that the acts which necessitate that a minor be viewed as an adult in the eyes of the law, should also apply to the records documenting their acts.
For more information, contact information, and self-help sites related to juvenile and criminal courts and court records, visit Courtreference.com.