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What Happens When a Juvenile Breaks the Law?

Children and teenagers are at an age when they are still discovering the world and trying to make sense of it. However, their natural curiosity could result in them engaging in behavior that could violate one or more laws. In Illinois, when a juvenile commits a crime, they could go through all the same processes as an adult. However, depending on the child’s age and the type of crime committed, if their case is taken to trial, it could either be handled in juvenile or adult court.

The Arrest Process

If a minor is reported to have engaged in criminal behavior, police can take them into custody.

Depending on their age, the child could be held for:

  • 6 hours: 12 years of age or younger
  • 12 hours for a non-violent crime: between 12 and 16 years of age
  • 24 hours for a violent crime: between 12 and 16 years of age

As with an adult arrest, when a minor goes through this process, they can be questioned by law enforcement. What complicates the matter is that this could happen without a parent present. The officer must try to contact the parent or guardian after making the arrest, but they don’t have to wait for them to show up to begin the interrogation.

The trouble with questioning a child without a parent or guardian present is that the child might not fully understand the situation and could unknowingly say something that implicates them. Also, the younger the child, the less likely it is they know what’s going on and why the officer took them into custody.

Recently, a 9-year-old boy was charged with murder and arson. His arraignment was filled with pauses, as his lawyer had to stop the judge to have him explain certain terms. The boy said he didn’t understand what he did wrong, didn’t know what arson was, and didn’t know what “alleged” meant. Although this happened during court processes as opposed to an arrest, it highlights the difficulty minors have when trying to grasp legal concepts.

Being Tried as a Juvenile vs. Being Tried as an Adult

In Illinois, whether a minor is charged as a juvenile or adult depends on the age of the child and the type of offense committed.

A child’s case is handled in juvenile court if:

  • They were 17 years of age or younger and committed a misdemeanor
  • They were 16 years of age or younger and committed a felony

However, there are some instances when a juvenile can automatically be tried as an adult.

This occurs when the minor is 16 years of age or older and they were charged with any of the following offenses:

  • First-degree murder,
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Aggravated battery

Returning to the situation of the 9-year-old charged with murder and arson, his case is being handled in juvenile court because of his age. However, if he were 16 or 17 years of age, he would automatically be tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the offense.

Sentencing a Juvenile

Juvenile courts are focused on rehabilitation of the child as opposed to merely punishing them for the offense. When a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, the sentencing options vary and could include incarceration or non-incarceration punishments, such as counseling or probation.

In Illinois, a minor under 9 years of age cannot be sent to detention, and those under 12 cannot be imprisoned. Because of this, the 9-year-old mentioned earlier faces a maximum penalty of probation. He may also be subject to counseling and other types of treatment.

Reach Out to the Law Office of Steven Fine for Skilled Representation

If your child was accused of an offense in Chicago, our attorney can provide effective legal guidance every step of the way.

For 20 years of experience on your side, call us at (312) 436-0638 or contact us online.