Judge ruling on a verdict.

Charged as an Adult vs. Charged as a Juvenile: How Judges Decide

The justice system for adults in Washington has the goal of punishing offenders found guilty of crimes. However, the goal of the Juvenile Justice System in Washington is to provide treatment for the rehabilitation of minors found guilty of a crime. Thus, the punishments in juvenile court are less severe for many of the same crimes committed by adults. Therefore, a Seattle juvenile criminal defense attorney works to keep the charges in juvenile court. However, some cases are automatically transferred to adult court. 

Auto Decline of Jurisdiction by Juvenile Court

Some serious offenses committed by minors automatically result in being charged as an adult. These offenses are referred to as “auto decline” offenses. The adult judicial system has exclusive jurisdiction of offenders 16 and 17 years of age charged with rape of a child in the first degree and other serious violent offenses. 

With the approval of the court and consent of the prosecutor, exclusive jurisdiction may be waived. However, it is unlikely that jurisdiction will be transferred to the juvenile court in cases of rape in the first degree or when the juvenile has a previous criminal record.

In cases involving serious crimes committed by minors 15 years of age or under, the court has discretionary whether to transfer jurisdiction to the adult system. A prosecutor must file a motion with the court requesting the transfer of the case to the adult judicial system. The court holds a hearing to consider the relevant facts in the case.

Each side presents arguments for or against charging the minor as an adult. Judges may consider any relevant fact when deciding whether to charge a minor as an adult. However, in most cases, judges make the decision based on factors including:

  • The seriousness of the crime (sex crimes and violent crimes are more likely to be transferred to the adult judicial system);
  • The age of the minor (minors who are 16 and 17 are most likely to be charged as adults, but the seriousness of a crime could result in a younger minor being charged as an adult); and,
  • The minor’s criminal history (a criminal history can indicate that the rehabilitation efforts of the juvenile system did not work).

What is the Impact of Being Charged as an Adult?

If a minor is charged as an adult for a crime and convicted of that crime as an adult, it is likely that any future crimes committed by the minor result in adult charges. Once a minor is charged as an adult, the minor faces the same criminal penalties an adult faces for a conviction. Therefore, a minor could face up to life in prison if convicted of some crimes.

However, a judge does have the discretion to deviate from mandatory enhancements and standard sentencing ranges for juvenile defendants charged as adults. The judge may consider the mitigating qualities of youth when ordering a sentence. 

Contact a Seattle Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney for Help

If your child is charged with a crime, it is important to consult a Seattle juvenile criminal defense attorney immediately. Contact Jennifer today to discuss how she can help you fight to keep the case in juvenile court where diversion programs can avoid severe punishments. 

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights, and some general information on various aspects of juvenile criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.