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Criminal Law

  Juvenile Crime

In most cases, when a juvenile is accused of a crime, the justice process proceeds differently from the usual criminal justice process. The approach to juvenile crime is that juveniles do not commit crimes; they commit acts of delinquency that require state intervention to correct.

Juvenile courts typically handle cases involving children from ages 10 to 18. However, in cases of extremely serious or violent crimes, such as murder or rape, the prosecutor may choose to try the juvenile as an adult in the ordinary criminal justice process. There is a trend in many states to lower the age at which a juvenile may be tried as an adult and be subject to adult punishment. In some states, the process is reversed and a juvenile accused of a serious crime is automatically charged in adult court, with the judge having the discretion to transfer the case to a juvenile court.

Juvenile Rights

There are important distinctions between the process of trying a case in the juvenile court systems opposed to the adult court system.  However, a juvenile does have other important rights such as:

  • appointment of legal counsel
  • notice of the charges
  • the right to a hearing
  • the right to confront witnesses
  • the right against self-incrimination



Juvenile court proceedings place emphasis on rehabilitation of the juvenile offender. Judges have wide discretion in fashioning a program of rehabilitation for a juvenile offender. Some states limit the punishment that may be given to a juvenile offender. For example, in some states, the period of incarceration imposed on a juvenile offender, even in the case of a very serious crime, may not extend past the juvenile’s 18th birthday. These limitations vary greatly from state to state.

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