Teenagers often don’t make the best decisions. Perhaps, when you were young, you “borrowed” your dad’s treasured classic car and went on a joy ride or two. However, some of those under 18 go beyond teen hijinks and break the law. Some even commit serious crimes, such as robbery or even assault or manslaughter.
If you have a teenager who police have arrested, you may wonder if and when your teen will be charged as an adult. In recent years, many states have been reforming their juvenile justice laws to protect more teens under 18 from facing adult charges.
Charging juveniles as adults
In 2018, Washington changed laws regarding how teens may face adult charges. Now, only teens charged with violent crimes, such as manslaughter or murder, automatically will face adult charges. In other cases, judges will decide if a teen charged in Washington will remain in the juvenile justice system or face charges as an adult.
Some of the reasons, Washington lawmakers decided to change the laws about juvenile crime included that:
- Research has shown that the frontal cortex in people’s brain (where decision-making occurs) doesn’t fully develop until well into adulthood (about age 25). Because of this, teens are more likely to engage in risky and dangerous behavior and become involved in fights.
- Automatically charging teens under 18 with adult charges in robbery and burglary cases disproportionately affected teenagers of color.
- Teens have a better chance of rehabilitation and lower risks of reoffending if they go through juvenile rehabilitation programs instead of going to adult prison.
In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court gave trial judges a lot of discretion on when to charge juvenile offenders as adults and imposing lighter sentences because of an offender’s age. Some criminal justice reform advocates want to allow those under age 25 to face less serious consequences for nonviolent crimes because younger offenders’ brains haven’t developed fully yet.
When your teen is facing criminal charges
If your teen ends up facing criminal charges, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can advocate to allow your teen’s case to remain in the juvenile justice system and possibly get your child into a diversion program. You want to do all you can to avoid having a teenage mistake impact your child’s life for years.