How Does the Juvenile Justice System Differ From the Adult Justice System?

In the United States, children under the age of 18 may still face consequences when they commit legal offenses or crimes. As with the adult justice system, children who commit crimes may face penalties and punishments according to state laws. However, there are many ways in which juvenile crimes are handled differently. If your child is facing charges for a crime, it is important to understand the differences between the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system.

The key differences between the juvenile justice system and adult justice system include:

  • Juvenile courts are less formal than adult courts
  • Both the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system allow the defendant the right to an attorney
  • Juvenile and adult courts both require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a guilty conviction
  • Juveniles tried in a juvenile court are not given the right to a public trial, but are heard by a judge in an adjudication hearing

The Purpose

An essential difference between the juvenile justice system and the adult justice system is the purpose behind each. Whereas the adult justice system typically seeks to punish individuals for wrongdoing, the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate children and correct criminal behavior. Adult courts may be quicker to hand out hefty penalties, but juvenile courts will focus more on keeping children out of jail through counseling and other methods.

Potential Penalties

Children are usually prosecuted for delinquent acts, rather than crimes, unless the offense was especially serious. In fact, older children charged with very serious crimes may even be tried as adults, but only under certain circumstances. If a child is tried as a juvenile and found guilty, the penalties will aim to work in the child’s best interest. This typically includes some sort of rehabilitation program, counseling, mandatory community service, or correctional facility.

If your child or someone you love is being tried in juvenile court, our firm can help. Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich today to discuss your case with our firm.


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