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"D" for Delinquent

IRWIN KRAMER: If you are under 18, how your are charged may be more important than what you are charged with.

BRYON WARNKEN: It is very significant whether you are charged those as an adult or juvenile. Because if you are charged as an adult, you could go away for life. If it is murder for example, if you charged as a juvenile, then you are not even found guilty of a crime. You are "adjudicated" as a "delinquent."

IRWIN KRAMER: I handled one case I remember where a 16-year-old had killed his father, bludgeoned him to death with a hammer in cold blood. He was charged as a juvenile, spent a couple of years in psychiatric treatment, and his 18th birthday present was freedom.

BRYON WARNKEN: And in may jurisdictions you cannot go away for more than until age 18 or age 21 regardless of what you did because you are a "child" who was "delinquent" who needs to be "rehabilitated." If you are charged with something and you are under 18, then you want a lawyer who can try to get you in juvenile court and not in adult court because it makes all the difference in the world.

They would actually try the case the same way in both courts. It is just that in the criminal court. You are going to be sentenced, which is probably going to be to time in prison.

However, if you are in a juvenile court, instead of the judge finding him "guilty" beyond the reasonable doubt, the judge would find beyond the reasonable doubt that you are "delinquent." You are considered a naughty child. You are considered as a child who needs rehabilitation because you delinquent. You are naughty, but you do not get a criminal record.

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Adult Time for Adult Crimes?

Youthful offenders aren't always treated with kid gloves in the justice system. Depending upon the circumstances of the offense, virtually all states allow for the possibility that juveniles may be tried as adults.

While the law varies from state to state, four factors usually weigh heavily on the prosecutor's ability to try a juvenile as an adult:

  • The age of the juvenile;
  • The type of offense charged;
  • The extent of the juvenile's past history of delinquency; and
  • Whether the district attorney invokes the district court's original jurisdiction or seeks to transfer a pending juvenile court proceeding to the district court.

In general, the likelihood that a prosecutor will be able to file criminal charges against a juvenile as an adult increases with the age of the juvenile, the severity of the charged offense, and the juvenile's past history of delinquency. And, even where all of these factors are present and state law permits it, the prosecutor has wide discretion in deciding whether to have a suspect tried as an adult at all.

For this reason, it is extremely important for defense lawyers to dissuade the prosecutor from persuing adult charges in the first place. As Professor Warnken emphasized in the video, the difference between juvenile court and adult court can make "all the difference in the world" -- often, it can make the difference between a lifetime behind bars and graduating from reform school as a free citizen.

Law Can Be Stranger than Fiction

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