When Can Children Be Tried as Adults?
When a minor commits a serious crime, a court may determine that their actions warrant adult treatment. This may also occur when a minor engages in a pattern of criminal activity which has thus far proceeded unabated by previous penalties, such as placement in juvenile hall, probation, electronic monitoring, etc. In such cases, a judge may waive the protections afforded in juvenile court and transfer the juvenile to adult court.
A minor may be directly charged in adult court if any of the following are true:
- They have committed an especially violent crime or serious felony, such as rape or murder.
- They have committed a lewd and lascivious act with another minor under the age of 14.
- They are nearing the age of 18 because in Nebraska a Juvenile Court only has jurisdiction of a minor until the age of 19.
In order for a minor to be directly charged as an adult in Nebraska, they must have been at least 14 years old when the crime of which they are accused was committed, and they must have committed a traffic infraction or a serious felony offense. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1816(1)(a)(ii)-(iii))
How Are Juveniles Transferred to Adult Criminal Court?
In Nebraska, if a transfer from juvenile court to county court or district court is authorized by statute, the prosecutor may move to transfer the proceedings. Such motion shall be filed with the juvenile court petition unless otherwise permitted for good cause shown. The juvenile court shall schedule a hearing on such motion within fifteen days after the motion is filed. The prosecutor has the burden by a preponderance of the evidence to show why such proceeding should be transferred. The juvenile shall be represented by counsel at the hearing and may present the evidence as to why the proceeding should be retained. After considering all the evidence and reasons presented by both parties, the juvenile court shall retain the proceeding unless the court determines that by a preponderance of the evidence shows that the proceeding should be transferred to the county court or district court. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-274(5)
If state laws do not mandate that a minor’s specific crime be dealt with in adult criminal court, a petition to move them from juvenile to adult court may originate with a prosecutor or judge. If initiated by a prosecutor, a waiver hearing takes place, during which time the prosecutor must offer the court probable cause to believe that the minor perpetrated the crime of which they are accused. If initiated by a judge, the adult criminal trial may begin immediately, unless contested by the minor’s counsel. An experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney may be able to successfully keep a case in the juvenile justice system.
What Happens to Teens Who Are Tried & Charged as Adults?
When minors are transferred to adult criminal court, there may be a few potentially positive perks, such as the right to receive a jury trial or the potential for expedited results. However, the disadvantages generally outweigh the theoretical perks of being tried in adult criminal court.
The permanence of being waived to adult court gives parents and family members reason to worry. Once a judge waives the protections of juvenile criminal court, they are gone forever, and the court will regard that minor as an adult in all future criminal proceedings. When waived to adult court, a child permanently loses access to opportunities for remediation, counseling, and other softer solutions available in juvenile court.
Stringent sentencing is another daunting consequence of being moved to adult criminal court. Minors in juvenile court cannot be sentenced to life in prison or incarcerated in an adult facility. However, those tried as adults may receive lengthy prison sentences in adult penitentiaries, where they face the possibility of major disruption in their education and personal development, as well as an increased likelihood of physical and sexual abuse, exacerbation of existing personality and mental health issues, and an increased corresponding likelihood of recidivism.
After being tried as an adult, minors’ criminal records are not permanently sealed once they reach the age of 19, as is the case for children tried in juvenile criminal court. In addition to harsher punishments and longer prison sentences, increased difficulty in expunging adult criminal records can change minors’ personal and economic trajectories by barring them from higher-level education and lucrative jobs later on in life.
Needless to say, it is typically preferable for minors to be tried in juvenile criminal court. However, in the event a judge or prosecutor decides your child should be tried as an adult, you have the right to enlist the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to obtain a fair outcome.
Nebraska Juvenile Defense Attorneys Serving Minors & Their Families Since 1965
At Berry Law Firm, we fight for fair treatment of minors. An adult criminal conviction can reverberate into your child’s future and negatively affect their prospects for years to come, but our team may be able to provide the strong defense they need to prevent transfer to adult criminal court and help you achieve a positive result. Consult with one of our young adult defense lawyers in Nebraska to get the help you need.
Call (402) 817-6550 to speak to a member of our team today.