Everyone has errors in judgment. Everyone makes mistakes. But, Washington law says that children as young as 12 can be arrested, charged and incarcerated like an adult. Accusations of felonies like Taking a Motor Vehicle, Robbery, Arson, Burglary, sex offences, and felony assaults can have lifelong consequences.
If a child is adjudicated, a record of their arrest can remain active for years. This can dramatically affect their chances of a good education and a career.
Juvenile Court is not always more lenient than adult court. Certain serious offenses allow a prosecutor discretion if a child will be charged as an adult. For example, if a 17 year old committed a serious assault with a gun, hitting and injuring multiple people, the prosecutor may be able to prosecute the child as though he was an adult.
The most serious charges are juvenile sex offenses and felony assaults. In King County Juvenile Court, which is located Seattle, most juvenile criminal charges and juvenile sex offenses are prosecuted. Others are “declined” and sent to adult court, as noted above. A conviction on a case that has been sent to “adult” court will result in an adult (permanent) conviction if a guilty verdict is rendered.
There are several options in lieu of incarceration which are available in juvenile court for some classes of offenders. The reason these options exist is because the goal and focus of juvenile court is inherently different than that of adult court: its focus is rehabilitation. (The focus in adult court is punishment.)
If your son or daughter is in trouble with the law, it’s vital to get a lawyer who is also a juvenile law defense attorney immediately to protect your child’s legal rights.
Jennifer Miller worked in the Juvenile Division of the Prosecutor’s Office, and is experienced in negotiation and litigation in that court. Juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial like adults are, so all trials at Juvenile Court are in front of judges or commissioners. Great progress and results can sometimes occur during negotiation at Juvenile Court, keeping your child’s record in the clear and your stomach from feeling sick with worry.