What is the legal definition of juvenile?
When children commit crimes, whether it’s shoplifting or assault and battery, their cases are typically heard in juvenile court, where the emphasis is on counseling and rehabilitation versus hard time. The common belief is that juveniles still have a lot of time to mature and become functioning members of society, along with concerns that adult prisons are no place for a minor.
The following is background information about juvenile justice, including how “juvenile” is defined, trying juveniles as adults, and more.
Legal Definition of Juvenile
The precise legal definition of a “juvenile delinquent” or “young offender” is someone between 12 and 17 years of age who through the due process of law has been found to have violated criminal legislation and is therefore subject to punishments determined by a youth court.
How Young is Too Young to Be Held Liable?
As well as having upper age limits, juvenile jurisdictions also have lower age limits. Most provinces specify that prior to age six or seven, juveniles lack mens rea, or criminal intent. At this young age, juveniles also are thought to lack the ability to tell right from wrong, or dolci incapax.
The age of the offender at the time the offense was committed typically determines jurisdiction. But in some provinces, age refers to the offender’s age at the time of apprehension. This arrangement allows for the sometimes lengthy periods it takes to clear a case.
Trying Juveniles as Adults
One’s status as a juvenile or as an adult is pertinent for the court’s determination of the jurisdiction under which an offender falls: the adult or the juvenile court system. If it’s decided that a juvenile will be tried in a juvenile court, most provinces allow the juvenile to remain under that jurisdiction until the defendant’s 21st birthday.
Relying on age as a sole determinant for adulthood has been criticized by many criminologists and policy makers since individuals develop at different rates. Some youth are far more mature at 17 or 18 than are some adults. Because of this discrepancy, juvenile court judges have been given broad discretion to waive juveniles to adult court for trial and sentencing.
In rare situations, the courts also have the power to emancipate a juvenile in a civil proceeding so that they become an adult under the law and are granted certain adult privileges. For example, if a 17-year-old loses both parents and has no other living relatives, they could be emancipated in order to pursue custody of their younger siblings.
Have Questions About Juvenile Justice? Contact an Attorney
The juvenile justice system operates differently from the one used to try adult cases, mostly as a way to protect children and hopefully guide them to make better choices as they get older. But regardless of whether your case is in adult or juvenile court, legal representation can make a big difference in the outcome. For this reason, you should consider reaching out to a local criminal defense attorney if you’ve been charged with a crime.
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