US States are reconsidering and, in certain instances, retooling juvenile sentencing laws in regards to whether it makes sense to charge juveniles as adults.
Not only are there less incidents of juvenile crimes now than 20 years ago, but some states are responding to new information about the adolescent brain, as well as studies that reveal how teenagers sent to adult courts end up getting into trouble more often and are convicted of more serious offenses than other adolescents.
Some of the issues being addressed include reconsidering whether it makes sense to convict any teenager of life without parole and raising the age limit of kids who are eligible to go to juvenile court.
About 200,000 juvenile defendants (under 18 years of age) are sent to adult criminal court. A lot of them bypass or are transferred from the juvenile system because their states’ laws define them as adults and the type of crime they committed.
The harsher sentences for juveniles were implemented in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s following an increase of murders and other violent crimes by kids. From 1994 to 2005, however, the rate of arrest for juvenile violent crimes had dropped by 46%.
In Massachusetts, a juvenile can be prosecuted through three kinds of cases:
1) Delinquency cases: The youth is prosecuted in juvenile court and the maximum punishment is commitment to Massachusetts’s Department of Youth Services (DYS) until the age of 18.
2) Youthful Offender cases: Teenager, ages 14-17, can be prosecuted as a Youthful Offender if they committed a felony and a) are already committed to the DYS, b) are charged with a firearm offense, or c) are charged with a crime involving the threat or infliction of physical harm. Adult prison sentences, a DYS commitment until age 21, or a combination of both may result.
3) Murder cases: 14-17 year olds charged with murder are prosecuted in adult Superior Court.
States Rethink Charging Kids as Adults, ABC, December 2, 2007
Youth Advocacy Project
Related Web Resources:
Juvenile Justice Program, Mass.gov
Massachusetts Department of Youth Services
The Massachusetts criminal defense law firm of Altman & Altman LLP represents juveniles charged with crimes in this state. Your child’s future is too precious to lose. One of our Massachusetts juvenile crimes lawyers would be happy to speak with you.