There are many laws in the U.S. with age restrictions designed to protect young people who are not ready to make what could be consequential decisions such as whether to drink alcohol, use cannabis, or vape. In fact, all of these activities are now reserved for 21-year-olds, allowing 18-year-old kids in high school, or those who have recently graduated, time to acquire a few years of maturity before pulling out all the stops. Laws that many agree make perfect sense considering that children do not magically sprout adult brains at the stroke of 18 – they need time to grow up.
When it comes to criminal justice, however, 18 signals adulthood and serious consequences for teens and young adults who break the law. There are vast differences in the way kids are treated in juvenile and adult court, which is evident in the language used. When an adult of 18 years is charged using a “complaint”, they face possible “conviction” and “sentencing” to determine “punishment”. A 17-year-old, perhaps days away from his or her 18th birthday, is charged using a “petition” and may be “adjudicated delinquent” (instead of being convicted) resulting in a “disposition” to determine what should happen to the juvenile, which often includes rehab, counseling and education. Juveniles have the luxury of applying for expungement at any time so they can move on with their lives, while the 18 year old “adult” has limited options to erase a criminal record that can negatively impact their future employment or attendance at school.
In light of the consequences young people face under the current system, many have proposed changing the age at which individuals can be prosecuted as adults from 18 to 21. Many believe that treating 18 and 19 year olds as adults makes no sense in the criminal context and support the recent introduction of bills recognizing that “people under 21 still need guidance”. Those in favor of changing the way we look at young offenders, including the director of the Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law, applaud the recent efforts to change the law citing research that shows raising juvenile court jurisdiction to include young adults, with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment, not only promotes healthy adolescent development and community safety, but reduces crime overall.
Many who make mistakes or exercise poor judgement resulting in criminal charges will likely do so early in life. It is important for families of juveniles and young adults who are facing criminal charges to act immediately, hiring an experienced juvenile law criminal defense lawyer who will seek to dismiss or reduce charges to get their loved one out of the legal system as quickly as possible and on their way. Getting a second chance is what many young people and their families hope for – the criminal defense lawyers of Andrew C. Ladd are on your side to get that second chance. If your minor child has been charged with a juvenile crime in southeastern Wisconsin or if you think a charge is imminent, contact our offices at 262-542-3900.