Most children charged with a crime before their 18th birthday will find themselves in juvenile court. However, in some specific cases, the court may charge a child as an adult, and that child will face more severe penalties if the court finds them guilty. Could Washington courts charge your child as an adult?
When can Washington charge a child with a crime as an adult?
There are generally three different ways that Washington courts can try a child as an adult: decline hearings, statutory criminal charges and a history of being tried as an adult.
For certain crimes, a decline hearing may determine whether a juvenile or adult court hears a child’s case. In discretionary decline hearings, prosecutors can request that the court try a young person as an adult if they face serious violent crime charges. Decline hearings are mandatory for young person accused of escape while serving a juvenile sentence.
Certain charges will also give adult criminal court jurisdiction over a child’s case. If they are 16 or older and charged with a statutory crime, including certain violent offenses or sexual crimes, adult courts will preside over their case.
Washington law also states that any young person who previously faced charges in adult court will face adult charges again unless they were convicted of a less serious charge or acquitted. This means that once the court tries your child as an adult, they may face more serious charges in the future.
When children face charges in adult court, these courts’ serious penalties could result in lifelong consequences. Because of this, it is important to speak to an attorney if you or a loved one under the age of 18 face criminal charges. They can help you navigate your options and protect your rights, whether a juvenile or adult court will hear your case.