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Juvenile Case or Adult Case?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

August 8, 2012

These days, such a question carries a very fine line and is not as obvious as you may think. Years ago, if you were under the age of eighteen and were arrested for any criminal case(s), you were treated and charged as a juvenile since the fact is you were a juvenile. Wow, have times changed.

Today, children as young as fifteen are being arrested as juveniles but charged (direct filed) as adults. Certainly, some direct files can be substantiated by the heinous nature of some violent/sexual offenses. However, many cases that are not at all serious are being prosecuted as adult cases because of a backlog of cases in the juvenile system.

However, I recently represented a juvenile client who had a burglary case from December, 2011 and recently picked up a felony drug possession charge. He was arrested with two other juveniles. He was held in custody until I got on the case and within 48 hours I had a Motion to Modify Pre-Trial Release heard by the judge which resulted in him being released on home detention. The State wanted to direct file my client solely because he was seventeen (17) and any period of the probationary sentence would have gone passed his 18th birthday. Huh? Really? The law says we should charge juveniles as juveniles with few exceptions such as the ones mentioned above. None of which is because he will be 18 when his juvenile sentence is set to end.

I was successful in negotiating a resolution that allowed the Burglary charge and the Felony Drug Possession charge to remain in juvenile court. Doing so is extremely important since the nature of the charge in adult court is one that can never be sealed or expunged, thus affecting the client’s ability to apply for college or any future employment.

The unfortunate reality is that the co-defendants who were not represented by a private attorney met a much different fate. They were direct filed to adult court where they are now facing up to twenty (20) years in adult state prison, all at the ripe young, juvenile age of 17.

The mindset used to be that Juvenile Court’s sole purpose is to rehabilitate and adult court is to punish. Experience tells me that such is only half true with the current trend of rushing to treat juveniles as adults on non-serious felonies.

Many of these "kids" do not stand a fighting chance in their pursuit of their hopes and dreams if they are treated as adults before they turn 18.

What a shame.