Understanding Legal Challenges

How Juvenile Criminal Defense Differs From Adult Cases

The American system of juvenile criminal defense law acknowledges there are often significant differences between the behaviors of kids and adults. If you're preparing to meet with a juvenile criminal lawyer, it's worth your time to learn what these differences are and how they work.

Tried as a Minor or an Adult

Notably, it is possible in some cases for a minor to be tried as an adult. However, this has the potential to open the door to an appeals case if the juvenile is convicted. The reason this issue is important is the law presumes a certain level of understanding for an adult's conduct. A minor, on the other hand, may have less capacity to understand wrongdoing, immorality, and harm. That typically benefits the defense.

First-Time Offenders

Juvenile criminal law doesn't presume leniency for first-time offenders, but it is common for judges to consider this factor when dealing with a minor. An adult has the same right to ask for leniency based on first-timer status, but society generally favors this attitude more toward kids than adults. If a judge elects to treat a defendant as a first-time offender, they may propose solutions intended to divert the minor away from jail. For example, the kid may have to go to counseling pending a suspended sentence. This means that as long as the defendant completes the counseling process in good faith, the court will throw out the conviction. If the defendant doesn't, then the court will apply the full sentence.

State of Mind

Many criminal statutes include provisions accounting for a defendant's state of mind. For example, a scared person might have a self-defense claim in an assault case. Generally, the law assumes minors don't have as strong of control of their emotions. Consequently, a juvenile criminal lawyer may use this argument as a defense in a case where state of mind is a factor in determining guilt. Lawyers for kids also have some ability to assert a lack of understanding of criminal law. For example, no one would charge a toddler with criminal theft if the kid swiped a candy bar from a store.

Juvenile criminal law does impose heightened liability, though, as a minor gets older. It's generally understood that most teenagers, even ones in their early teens, comprehend that murder is wrong, for example. Usually, a prosecutor is more likely to pursue adult charges for these types of higher crimes.