Can My Child Be Tried As An Adult For Their Criminal Offense?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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If your child has been accused of a crime, you may be wondering if they can be tried as an adult. This is a difficult and scary time for any parent, but it is important to understand the facts before making decisions about your child’s future. Read on to learn more about how juvenile delinquents are tried in the criminal court system.

The Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system is designed to be more rehabilitative than punitive. This approach centers around the notion that juvenile offenders are often not mature enough to understand the weight of their actions, and that rehabilitation is a more effective solution than incarceration. A rehabilitative approach focuses on the betterment of the child to ensure they do not commit future crimes rather than punishment through severe punishment.

In most circumstances, juvenile offenders are tried in juvenile court. The goal of the juvenile court is to help the child get back on track, and to provide support and rehabilitation services that will help them do so.

If a juvenile is found guilty of a crime, the sentence could include counseling, community service, or detention in a juvenile facility. However, in some cases a juvenile may be transferred to the criminal court system and tried as an adult.

When Can A child Be Tried As An Adult?

This decision is made by the juvenile court judge and is based on the severity of the offense, the child’s age and maturity, the likelihood that the child committed the criminal offense, and the interests of the community.

There are multiple requirements and steps that the district attorney must follow to attempt to transfer your child’s case to criminal court. The district attorney must file written notice with the juvenile court and provide evidence that your child is not being rehabilitated by the juvenile justice system. The written notice must be provided within 90 days of the child being charged with the offense and the child is entitled to a minimum of 14 days written notice prior to the transfer hearing taking place to provide the child’s attorney with time to prepare for the hearing.

The district attorney must demonstrate to the court that the child’s offense was serious enough to warrant criminal prosecution as an adult, that there is reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that the child committed the delinquent act as alleged, and that it is in the best interest of the community to require the child to be put under legal restraint and discipline of the adult criminal court rather than the juvenile court.

If the juvenile court judge determines that transfer is appropriate in your child’s case, then the judge may transfer the case to criminal court for your child to be tried as an adult. They could face serious penalties, including time in prison. It’s important to contact an experienced Knoxville juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible if you think your child may be tried as an adult.

Offenses That Qualify For A Juvenile Transfer To Adult Criminal Court

14 Years Or Younger

If your child is under the age of 14 years of age at the time of the alleged conduct, the only way that the case can be transferred to criminal court is if he or she is charged with first degree murder, second degree murder or attempted first or second degree murder.

14-16 Years And 364 Days

If your child is 14 years of age or more but under 17 years old at the time of the alleged conduct and charged with first or second degree murder, rape or aggravated rape, rape or aggravated rape of a child, aggravated or especially aggravated robbery, aggravated or especially aggravated burglary, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping or especially aggravating kidnapping, commission of an act of terrorism, carjacking, or an attempt to commit any such offenses.

16 Years Or Older

If your child is 16 years or older at the time of the alleged conduct and charged with the offense of robbery or attempt to commit robbery.

17 Years

If your child is 17 years old or more at the time of the alleged conduct, he or she may be charged as an adult for potentially any conduct. It is entirely in the district attorney’s discretion whether to seek transfer or not if your child is 17 years old. Consequently, it is essential that you hire an experienced juvenile delinquency and criminal lawyer to represent your child to convince the district attorney to keep their case in juvenile court.

If your child’s age and offense make it qualify for transfer to criminal court it does not necessarily mean that the district attorney will attempt to transfer it to criminal court. However, if the district attorney does want to transfer the case, then you and your child will receive written notice of the time, place, and purpose of the hearing at least 14 days prior to the hearing.

If you do not have a lawyer before receiving written notice of the transfer hearing, it is imperative that you hire an attorney as soon as practicable for your lawyer to prepare for the hearing to avoid criminal court.

Juvenile Transfer Hearings

At the hearing, the court may transfer the case from juvenile court to criminal court if the court finds probable cause to believe that: (1) the child committed the act as alleged; (2) the child is not committable to an institution for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill; (3) the interests of the community require that the child be put under legal restraint or discipline; and (4) your child committed the alleged delinquency conduct.

In finding probable cause, the court has 6 factors that they evaluate. Your juvenile defense lawyer should understand these 6 factors and argue why they do not apply, or if they do apply, advocate strongly for why they should not apply to your specific child’s case to avoid transferring the case to criminal court. The six factors include: (1) the extent and nature of the child’s prior delinquency records; (2) the nature of past treatment efforts and the nature of the child’s response thereto; (3) whether the offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to offenses against the person; (4) whether the offense was committed in an aggressive and premeditated manner; (5) the possible rehabilitation of the child by use of procedures, services and facilities currently available to the court in this state; and (6) whether the child’s conduct would be a criminal gang offense if committed by an adult.

It is important that you hire a juvenile defense lawyer that understands the process of a transfer hearing. Your lawyer should know that any statements made by your child at the juvenile court hearing are inadmissible against your child in a criminal proceeding following the transfer. This means that your child’s attorney should discuss the benefits and consequences of your child testifying in juvenile court if it may be beneficial to defeat probable cause or demonstrate to the court that the interests of the community are for the child to remain in juvenile court. Your lawyer should fight for your child’s rights and demonstrate to the court that the juvenile court is adequate to protect the community.

Will My Child Be Placed In A cell With An Adult?

If your child’s case does get transferred, your child will be housed in a juvenile correctional facility unless the committing court orders commitment to an adult facility. The committing court will order commitment to an adult facility if it finds that the juvenile correctional facility is inadequate to protect the public or the child. If your child does get confined to an adult facility it is important to know that they will be housed separately and removed from adult inmates.

Hiring A Juvenile Defense Attorney

If your child was arrested or received a summons to appear in juvenile court for a delinquent/criminal act, it is in your child’s best interest to hire a juvenile delinquency defense attorney. The attorneys at Barnes and Fersten Law Firm are experienced in juvenile defense matters and will do everything to ensure the best result possible for your child. If you have any questions about the juvenile court system or your child’s case, please do not hesitate to contact us. We offer free consultations and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.