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JUVENILE DEFENDANTS

If you're convicted of a crime as a juvenile can you be tried as an adult?

It depends on your specific age and the nature of the crime. For most crimes, juveniles are not transferred to adult criminal court. However, if a juvenile is at least 14 years old and commits a violent felony—such as murder or armed robbery—then the states have mechanisms in place to provide for the transfer of such juvenile defendants to adult court. Often, if the juvenile meets these conditions (be at least 14 and believed to have committed a violent felony), a juvenile court judge will hold a transfer hearing to determine whether or not to send the juvenile defendant to adult criminal court or to keep them in the juvenile court system.

Do juveniles in juvenile court receive all of the same rights as adults charged in criminal court?

Juveniles have most, but not all, of the same rights as adults in the criminal system. For example, juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. Instead, juveniles are tried before a single juvenile court judge. However, juveniles have many of the same rights, including: right to counsel, right to be informed of criminal charges, right to a speedy trial, right to confront witnesses, right to have compulsory process to have witnesses subpoenaed, to decide not to testify and others.

What is a status offense?

A status offense is an offense that is reserved for minors. Common examples of status offenses include truancy (missing school), violating a curfew, or the use of tobacco by a minor. The juvenile court has the power to impose sanctions upon a juvenile who commits status offenses. The thinking is that the juvenile court judge can bring a

LegalSpeak: Juvenile Transfer Law in Virginia

Va. Code Ann.

In determining whether a juvenile is a proper person to remain within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, the court shall consider, but not be limited to, the following factors:

a. The juvenile's age;

b. The seriousness and number of alleged offenses, including (i) whether the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner; (ii) whether the alleged offense was against persons or property, with greater weight being given to offenses against persons, especially if death or bodily injury resulted; (iii) whether the maximum punishment for such an offense is greater than twenty years confinement if committed by an adult; (iv) whether the alleged offense involved the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon by brandishing, threatening, displaying or otherwise employing such weapon; and (v) the nature of the juvenile's participation in the alleged offense;

c. Whether the juvenile can be retained in the juvenile justice system long enough for effective treatment and rehabilitation;

d. The appropriateness and availability of the services and dispositional alternatives in both the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems for dealing with the juvenile's problems;

e. The record and previous history of the juvenile in this or other jurisdictions, including (i) the number and nature of previous contacts with juvenile or circuit courts, (ii) the number and nature of prior periods of probation, (iii) the number and nature of prior commitments to juvenile correctional centers, (iv) the number and nature of previous residential and community-based treatments, (v) whether previous adjudications and commitments were for delinquent acts that involved the infliction of serious bodily injury, and (vi) whether the alleged offense is part of a repetitive pattern of similar adjudicated offenses;

f. Whether the juvenile has previously absconded from the legal custody of a juvenile correctional entity in this or any other jurisdiction;

g. The extent, if any, of the juvenile's degree of mental retardation or mental illness;

h. The juvenile's school record and education;

i. The juvenile's mental and emotional maturity; and

j. The juvenile's physical condition and physical maturity.

LegalSpeak: Roper v. Simmons (2005)

Justice Anthony Kennedy (majority): "Respondent and his amici have submitted, and petitioner does not contest, that only seven countries other than the United States have executed juvenile offenders since 1990: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China. Since then each of these countries has either abolished capital punishment for juveniles or made public disavowal of the practice. Brief for Respondent 49 to 50. In sum, it is fair to say that the United States now stands alone in a world that has turned its face against the juvenile death penalty....

"It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime.... The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions.

"Over time, from one generation to the next, the Constitution has come to earn the high respect and even, as Madison dared to hope, the veneration of the American people. See The Federalist No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). The document sets forth, and rests upon, innovative principles original to the American experience, such as federalism; a proven balance in political mechanisms through separation of powers; specific guarantees for the accused in criminal cases; and broad provisions to secure individual freedom and preserve human dignity. These doctrines and guarantees are central to the American experience and remain essential to our present-day self-definition and national identity. Not the least of the reasons we honor the Constitution, then, is because we know it to be our own. It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom."

Justice Antonin Scalia (dissent): "The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation's moral standards—and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures. Because I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners, I dissent....

More fundamentally, however, the basic premise of the Court's argument— that American law should conform to the laws of the rest of the world—ought to be rejected out of hand. In fact the Court itself does not believe it. In many significant respects the laws of most other countries differ from our law—including not only such explicit provisions of our Constitution as the right to jury trial and grand jury indictment, but even many interpretations of the Constitution prescribed by this Court itself. The Court-pronounced exclusionary rule, for example, is distinctively American."

Minors are given special consideration under the law, even when they commit serious crimes, because it is generally understood that juveniles do not possess the same reasoning abilities and self-control that adults do ( iStock).

Minors are given special consideration under the law, even when they commit serious crimes, because it is generally understood that juveniles do not possess the same reasoning abilities and self-control that adults do ( iStock).

juvenile under control and hopefully get them rehabilitation so that the juvenile will not regress into more serious criminal offenses.

Can a juvenile defendant receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole?

Juveniles cannot receive the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons (2005) that it constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment to execute juveniles in part because juveniles are less mature and less able to appreciate the gravity of their actions than adults.

As of this writing, it is uncertain whether juveniles can receive the second toughest criminal sentence—life in prison without the possibility of parole. On November 9, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases from Florida—Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida that will decide the question.

Did the U.S. Supreme Court rely on international law in reaching its decision against the death penalty for juvenile offenders?

Yes, the majority of the Court relied in part on international law—or the law of other countries—in reaching its decision that executing juvenile murderers would violate the Eighth Amendment. The Court noted that at least for 50 years it has referred to the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive for its interpretation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments." The majority noted that the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Children prohibited the death as did "several other significant international covenants." The majority later added: "The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions."

 
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