If your teen gets arrested on a criminal charge, you’ll likely experience many emotions as a parent. Fear, anger, worry and helplessness are just a few. However, you are not helpless, and there is hope. The first thing you can do—either to prepare for someday you hope will never come or in the aftermath of an arrest—is to equip yourself with knowledge, so that you can support your child to the best of your ability.

One crucial fact to understand is if your child is over the age of 15, they could face trial as a juvenile offender or a youthful offender.

What do these terms mean?

  • A juvenile offender is tried in juvenile court, according to preset statutory guidelines. These guidelines account for the seriousness of the offense and their criminal history. The guidelines also establish age-appropriate sentences. The primary goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation, and the penalties reflect that.
  • A youthful offender is someone aged 15 to 17 who is tried in adult court. Youthful offenders still receive protection from specific adult sentences. They cannot receive the death penalty or receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The focus of adult court is punishment, which is an important concept to grasp.

The prosecutor’s decision to try your teen in the juvenile or adult system is significant. It will not only determine sentencing guidelines but also where your child will be incarcerated, should the court issue a guilty verdict.