Parents of teens who have been arrested generally expect their children to face charges as juveniles. However, it is possible that a judge may decide that a Washington teenager should be tried as an adult if he or she is accused of committing a more serious offense. The impact of a juvenile waiver can be lifelong, and it is important that parents understand the process as well as their options for minimizing the possibility of a waiver.

A juvenile waiver is when a juvenile court judge transfers — or waives — a minor’s case to adult court. Juvenile waivers are generally used for teens who are accused of committing serious offenses, such as murder. A teenager who has a significant history of legal offenses might also be waived to adult court. As such, someone who is facing his or her first charge for a minor offense will probably not need to worry about a waiver.

The timing of a juvenile waiver is important. For example, if a juvenile judge has already adjudicated a teen, then he or she cannot be waived to adult court. An adjudication is similar to a conviction in adult court, so being waived after an adjudication would amount to being tried twice for the same crime. This is a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The reality is that teenagers are not mini adults with the same ability to discern good decisions from poor ones. This may leave some parents wondering why their child is facing the possibility of being charged and punished as an adult. Fighting a juvenile waiver may be their priority, but it is not always clear how or where to start. Learning as much as possible about Washington state juvenile law may be helpful, and an experienced attorney can sometimes provide further guidance through that process.