Some of the cases that involve youth offenders are severe enough that they get transferred into an adult criminal court proceeding. Most juveniles must be at least 16 years old to be eligible for a waiver into an adult court, removing the protections that the juvenile justice system offers. Some minors who have had multiple arrests in the past and qualify on age may also have their case moved.
When juveniles receive a trial in an adult court, then there are more constitutional protections that apply to their case. This waiver also creates the possibility of a severe sentence being imposed for their conduct. It also creates the possibility of having teens serving their time at a correctional facility meant for adults.
There are several other factors that might create a waiver into adult court for some youth. If past rehabilitation efforts have not worked or when youth services would need to work with the individual for a long time, then minors as young as 13 might be eligible for a transfer.
Several advantages and disadvantages of juveniles being tried as adults must be reviewed in each case to determine if a waiver into adult court is the best option.
List of the Advantages of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. It eliminates the juvenile threshold for consequences associated with severe crime.
Most juvenile offenders can have their records expunged or sealed when they reach the age of 18, 21, or 25 in most countries. When there is a waiver into the adult court, then a conviction does not become hidden in such a way. Over 300 people are killed each year because of the actions of an individual under the age of 18 in the United States, which is one of the highest rates of such activity in the world today. Removing the leniency as a child transitions into adulthood creates an incentive to avoid criminal conduct in the first place.
2. There are fewer opportunities to commit multiple severe crimes.
Lee Boyd Malvo petitioned the Supreme Court in October 2019 to take another look at his sentencing after terrorizing the Washington area in 2002. He was with John Allen Muhammad during a sniping shooting spree that killed 10 people and injured others, paralyzing the region in fear. Malvo received a sentence of four life sentences for his conduct at the time. When older youth commit severe and violent crimes, giving them a waiver into the adult court system allows for society to be safer because they cannot continue to make the same choice.
3. Some children are mature enough to commit a premeditated crime.
A 10-year-old girl was babysitting at a home daycare in Wisconsin. She accidentally dropped the six-month-old child, which caused the little one to start crying. The girl panicked because she felt like she was going to be in a lot of trouble, so she decided to stomp on the baby’s head to get them to be quiet. Officials said that the girl was able to control her behavior, which showed that there was a specific decision made to prevent consequences when taking these actions.
A judge ruled in March 2019 that the girl was incompetent to stand trial on the automatic charge of homicide, but that doesn’t mean the case is dismissed. It is just suspended indefinitely until there is a determination that she will be fit to stand trial. Reviews will happen quarterly. Some children are more mature than others, which means the justice system must take that into account.
4. It provides a consistent structure within the justice system.
When children commit horrendous crimes, they can come back into society without the same notifications that adult offenders must provide. Jasmine Richardson killed her parents and brother so that she could be with her boyfriend at the time – and she was only 12 years old. Investigators determined that she had stabbed the young boy in the chest several times while her older boyfriend, who was 23 at the time of the incident, slit his throat.
Richardson’s sentence was complete after a final review on May 6, 2016. The maximum penalty she could receive at the time was imprisonment of 10 years. Now she can live anywhere despite being a convicted triple homicide offender. Waiver into adult courts can help to prevent this issue.
5. Youth have access to services that aren’t always available in the youth system.
The two primary advantage that juveniles have as a convicted adult offender is that there is access to schooling and vocational skill development. Youth services will provide some of these services as well, but from an instructional perspective instead of trying to develop a life skill. Some adult facilities have better access to mental health support funding than juvenile facilities. There could be specialized help for addictions, learning disabilities, or other concerns that may have led to the initial criminal conduct in the first place.
6. It offers society an opportunity to teach children about accountability.
Criminal conduct is not always a learned behavior, but some households can treat it as acceptable conduct. Illegal activities should always carry consequences, whether that means a parking ticket is issued or someone stands before a jury to answer charges. Most consequences handed out by the youth system stop at the age of 21 unless unusual circumstances exist. If Malvo had been tried in the juvenile system, he would have likely received a sentence of 4 years for his participation in 10 murders instead of four life sentences.
When there is a structure in place that allows for a waiver into the adult justice system, juveniles can learn more about accountability. It teaches them the expectations that society has for their decisions and conduct.
7. Waivers into adult courts treat severe crime in an appropriate manner.
Lionel Tate is the youngest American citizen ever sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. When he was 13, he was convicted of first-degree murder for the battering death of a six-year-old girl. Tate was left alone with her while his mother was babysitting. When the mother discovered the incident, the teen said that they’d been wrestling and that she’d hit her head while he had her in a headlock. His conviction was eventually overturned on appeal, which led him to receive 10 years of probation and one year of house arrest.
The prosecution in the case recommended leniency, but the judge criticized them for charging the boy in the way they did in the first place. Tate would eventually receive 30 years for violating his probation and another 10 years to the robbery of a pizza deliveryman.
List of the Disadvantages of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. Juveniles become subject to most adult penalties.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that convictions of juveniles under the age of 18 that involve a life sentence are too severe. That doesn’t mean a sentence can’t be handed down that involves several decades of time. When a waiver into adult court occurs, then there are more severe sentences involved in a case when compared to what they would receive at the youth level.
Judged in adult court don’t have the same range of treatment or punishment options, such as ordering counseling or imposing a curfew.
2. Adult court doesn’t take into account the maturity of the child.
The physical and psychological development of children makes them prone to making certain decisions. Teens tend to be impulsive risk-takers because of this issue. When children are younger than 15, then there may not be an understanding of the consequences of their criminal conduct. Some kids might not even realize that they have broken the law.
A 9-year-old in Illinois appeared in court in October 2019 to answer to murder charges because of a fire he set in a mobile home. The boy’s attorney told the judge that the child didn’t understand the meaning of the words “arson” or “alleged.”
3. It is more difficult to seal an adult criminal record than juvenile ones.
When children commit a crime, their records are usually sealed as they become adults to give them an opportunity to succeed in life. That means most offenders do not need to list past convictions once they reach a specific age, like 18 or 21 in most instances.
If a conviction occurs in adult court for a juvenile, then expunging that record becomes more of a challenge. Their conduct will become available to the public throughout their life unless there are certain rules or laws in place that allow this action. Several stipulations must be met even when it is possible that could make it challenging for youth to meet.
4. There are fewer opportunities for rehabilitation in adult court.
Juveniles that receive sentences in adult court are usually given lengthy prison stays or long-term treatment that restricts their freedom well into their adult years. An incident in Wisconsin where two 12-year-old girls stabbed their classmate resulted in sentences of 25 and 40 years respectively at a mental institution. Both juveniles decided to plead guilty in the case. That means after their time is over in these facilities (when one girl will be 52), there will be few options available to start a new life.
5. Placing youth in an adult prison cell creates significant risks.
Most youth who receive a lengthy prison sentence as an adult are kept in solitary confinement until they are old enough to enter the general population. Kalief Browder committed suicide because of the psychological impact of spending several years by himself in this way. Teens who receive an adult sentence are almost 40 times more likely to successfully commit suicide while behind bars compared to adults or juveniles sentenced to a youth facility.
There are currently 10,000 children and teens under the age of 18 housed in adult prisons throughout the United States.
6. Standardized sentencing occurs in adult courts.
The “get tough” laws of the 1990s imposed strict standardized sentences on those who were found guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. Judges have little leeway as they impose a sentence after a conviction or when someone pleads guilty. These rules apply even when children are as young as 10 after a waiver into adult court occurs. The only exception involves a life sentence or what would be considered capital punishment. That means a lengthy sentence for something as simple as stealing a backpack or being in possession of certain drugs could create long-term consequences for the entire family to manage.
7. Adult sentences cause juveniles to have higher recidivism rates.
When juveniles are being tried as adults, convicted, and sent to an adult prison, then their recidivism rates increase dramatically. Only 15 states in the U.S. have provided data on this specific outcome, but the information shows that kids being treated as an adult have a recidivism rate that is 6 times higher. When juveniles are sentenced to youth facilities instead, adults are two times more likely to make their way back to jail or prison.
Some youth facilities report a 0% recidivism rate after 12 months and about 40% after five years. Adults have a rate of 7% after 12 months and up to 80% after seven years from their release date.
8. It places an adult understanding of criminal conduct onto a child.
“In my opinion,” said juvenile defense lawyer Gus Kostopoulos to USA Today, “if the child is so young that he doesn’t understand court proceedings, he’s probably too young to be charged with murder.” The last time a child was charged with multiple counts of murder in the United States was at least 2006 before the 9-year-old was given five charges because of a fire he allegedly set.
The issue with this disadvantage is that adults often try to place their decision-making processes onto the actions of a child. Prosecutors and investigators see lying or criminal decisions as an adult response when there may not be an understanding of what is happening to them.
9. Trying juveniles as adults does not provide them with needed services.
Older teens sometimes waiver into the adult system and receive specific services, such as GED classes, that can help them with the rehabilitation process. Younger children do not receive this option at all when sentenced to an adult facility. Most jails and prisons are not set up to receive juvenile offenders in the first place, so there are no youth-specific options available for correctional officers to use. That means these individuals may have zero opportunities to develop the critical competencies and life skills that could lead to future successes.
The opposite may actually occur in some situations. When youth are around adult offenders, then these people become the “replacement” teachers, parents, and idols. Prison can become a place where youth really learn what it means to become a criminal.
10. More minority youth go into the adult system in the United States than other groups.
Over 80% of the defendants of robbery cases in the Seattle area were under the age of 18 according to data released in 2016. The same report also notes that half of the teens were using a firearm at the time they committed the crime. When reviewing the racial data from the juvenile justice report, over 40% of the teens that were given charges were African-Americans despite the fact that only about 6% of the city is of the same demographic.
When the disparity of criminal conduct is that large, then the root cause of the issue is more societal than individualized. Locking teens behind bars for a long time might be a “feel good” strategy that implies a safer society, but it doesn’t solve the problems for the next generation.
11. Juveniles in adult court may not receive a fair jury trial.
Teens and youth who receive a waiver into adult court do receive the benefit of a jury trial. What they do not get is a panel that is reflective of their age group. When kids as young as 9 can be put on trial for severe crimes, it is a group of adults that will decide that juvenile’s fate. The United States requires that you be at least 18 to be empaneled onto a jury, so having someone judge the content of a case from a different perspective may not result in a fair trial.
12. Transferring juveniles into adult court takes away parental responsibility.
When children are charged in the juvenile justice system, there is a general responsibility of the parent to find appropriate care and counseling to facilitate rehabilitation. The household may have civil liabilities as part of that action. When youth receive a waiver into the adult system, then these requirements can disappear. The state becomes the custodian of the child, which means there are fewer ways to make victims whole again after the incident.
The advantage and disadvantages of juveniles being tried as an adult are seeing an evolution in recent years. Teens and youth are being given more chances to get out from behind bars later in life to create something for themselves. The system is not perfect, and we must still keep young people away from adult offenders to reduce recidivism rates. If we continue to look at this justice structure, then we can find more ways to help everyone involved with it.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.