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I understand that it is generally only done for serious crimes, and I believe the reason is to not have the perpetrator's criminal record simply sealed at a certain age, but what is the legal basis in the United States for this?

If you are not yet a certain age, or have passed an age, you just aren't that age... period. As a society we are obsessed with arbitrary numerical figures as a cut-off for certain privileges, and enforce them strictly to the extent that a 21 year old cannot be served alcohol at 1:00am on their birthday because presumably it falls under the previous serving day. And I'm pretty sure that same 20 year old couldn't petition the court to be tried as a 21 year old such that they might be found not guilty of a minor in possession charge happening the day before.

Falsifying your age for any reason (other than a social fib) is normally considered illegal. Certainly there is an expectation that if provided for official governmental purposes, or when entering into a private party contract where age may be germaine, the information provided will be correct.

So what is the legal basis, logic, reasoning, age cut-off, crime severity, or any other standard that must be met to authorize a court to not recognize the correct natural age of a child and hold them to the standards of an adult? And does a defendant have any say in the matter such as it being part of a plea deal?

Bonus question: If declared an adult by the court and then acquitted, does the juvenile retain any adult privileges? (I suspect not, but again it doesn't pass my personal reasonableness test...)

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    FWIW, it varies significantly by state.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 5 at 1:47

2 Answers 2

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I understand that it is generally only done for serious crimes, and I believe the reason is to not have the perpetrator's criminal record simply sealed at a certain age, but what is the legal basis in the United States for this?

State statutes regarding juvenile justice decide what the minimum age at which one can be tried for a crime is, and for what offenses and at what ages you can be tried as an adult. @DavidSiegel provides an answer with an example of such a statute.

Bonus question: If declared an adult by the court and then acquitted, does the juvenile retain any adult privileges? (I suspect not, but again it doesn't pass my personal reasonableness test...)

A juvenile tired as an adult for a criminal offense is not "declared to be an adult", the juvenile is just subjected to the adult criminal justice process (which isn't always worse in terms of due process) and to adult punishments for that particular criminal offense. No one is pretending that the juvenile is a different age.

It is also not akin to the process of "emancipation" of juveniles who are treated as adults for most purposes rather than being subject to the authority of a parent or guardian, because they are self-supporting.

The defendant is still a juvenile for all other purposes and is still sometimes eligible for juvenile offense treatment in future offenses.

In some cases, even if sentences to an adult sentence after being convicted as an adult in a public adult trial, the defendant will still serve at least the early years of their sentence in a juvenile detention facility.

So what is the legal basis, logic, reasoning, age cut-off, crime severity, or any other standard that must be met to authorize a court to not recognize the correct natural age of a child and hold them to the standards of an adult?

Typically, states reserve the option of trying someone as an adult for the most serious "blue collar" crimes and for adolescents. (Juveniles who commit "white collar" crimes are rarely tried as adults.)

One reason for this is that belief that even a less than mentally fully developed juvenile (usually a teenager) still fully understands that certain serious crimes are strong wrong and carry serious punishments.

Another is that the maximum sentence for a crime in the juvenile justice system is usually shorter than for a comparable crime committed by an adult and is usually served entirely in juvenile detention facilities away from adult inmates, which isn't viable for a sentence long enough to be considered by legislators to be sufficient for the severity of the crime.

And does a defendant have any say in the matter such as it being part of a plea deal?

Usually the decision is made in the first instance by a prosecutor bringing charges and it is often subject to judicial review at a hearing to determine if the juvenile should be prosecuted as an adult. It is a factor that can be addressed in early plea bargaining in a case, although usually once a prosecutor wins the right to charge a juvenile as an adult, this isn't rolled back in a plea bargain.

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Juvenile Proceedings in General

The question seems to assume that having reduced penalties for offenders below a certain age, or special courts or modes of trial for accused under a specific age is natural and automatic. It is actually a comparatively recent feature of US law, and exists only because statutes have so provided. Such statutes are largely matters of state law, and vary from state to state.

When a judge orders that an accused minor "be tried as an adult", the judge is not pretending that the minor is actually over the age of majority, nor ignoring the accused's actual age. Rather, the judge is following a procedure authorized in the same law or body of law that authorizes special juvenile procedures in the first place.

Such a finding determines the procedure for dealing with a particular charge or case. It does not make the child a legal adult.

The procedures for making such a determination are generally spelled out in detail in the law of the relevant jurisdiction. The details will vary.

Almost anything can be part of a plea deal, and juvenile treatment could in theory be part of such a deal, when the relevant law permits, if the judge approves. I believe that is unusual, however.

Maryland

Some crimes are, in specific circumstances, to be handled in adult court. In other cases, there is an option to have a case to adult court, following a hearing, in which the child (or the child's representative) can present reasons not to move the case.

Specifically:

Code section 3-8A-02 sets out the purposes of the juvenile court system.

Section 3-8a-6 (see below) specifies the circumstances under which a judge may move an accused child to an adult court, and the procedure for doing so.

Code section 3-8A-03 outlines when a matter is under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court, providing that:

(a) ... In addition to the jurisdiction specified in Subtitle 8 of this title, the [juvenile] court has exclusive original jurisdiction over:

(a) (1) A child who is alleged to be delinquent or in need of supervision or who has received a citation for a violation;

(a) (2) Except as provided in subsection (d)(6) of this section, a peace order proceeding in which the respondent is a child; and

(a) (3) Proceedings arising under the Interstate Compact on Juveniles

...

(c) Criminal cases under compulsory public school attendance laws. -- The jurisdiction of the court is concurrent with that of the District Court in any criminal case arising under the compulsory public school attendance laws of this State.

(d) Limitations. -- The court does not have jurisdiction over:

(d) (1) A child at least 14 years old alleged to have done an act which, if committed by an adult, would be a crime punishable by life imprisonment, as well as all other charges against the child arising out of the same incident, unless an order removing the proceeding to the court has been filed under § 4-202 of the Criminal Procedure Article;

(d) (2) A child at least 16 years old alleged to have done an act in violation of any provision of the Transportation Article or other traffic law or ordinance, except an act that prescribes a penalty of incarceration;

(d) (3) A child at least 16 years old alleged to have done an act in violation of any provision of law, rule, or regulation governing the use or operation of a boat, except an act that prescribes a penalty of incarceration;

(d) (4) A child at least 16 years old alleged to have committed any of the following crimes, as well as all other charges against the child arising out of the same incident, unless an order removing the proceeding to the court has been filed under § 4-202 of the Criminal Procedure Article:

  • (d) (4) (i) Abduction;
  • (d) (4) (ii) Kidnapping;
  • (d) (4) (iii) Second degree murder;
  • (d) (4) (iv) Manslaughter, except involuntary manslaughter;
  • (d) (4) (v) Second degree rape;
  • (d) (4) (vi) Robbery under § 3-403 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (vii) Second degree sexual offense under § 3-306(a)(1) of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (viii) Third degree sexual offense under § 3-307(a)(1) of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (ix) A crime in violation of § 5-133, § 5-134, § 5-138, or § 5-203 of the Public Safety Article;
  • (d) (4) (x) Using, wearing, carrying, or transporting a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime under § 5-621 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xi) Use of a firearm under § 5-622 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xii) Carjacking or armed carjacking under § 3-405 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xiii) Assault in the first degree under § 3-202 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xiv) Attempted murder in the second degree under § 2-206 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xv) Attempted rape in the second degree under § 3-310 of the Criminal Law Article or attempted sexual offense in the second degree under § 3-312 of the Criminal Law Article;
  • (d) (4) (xvi) Attempted robbery under § 3-403 of the Criminal Law Article; or
  • (d) (4) (xvii) A violation of § 4-203, § 4-204, § 4-404, or § 4-405 of the Criminal Law Article;

(d) (5) A child who previously has been convicted as an adult of a felony and is subsequently alleged to have committed an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, unless an order removing the proceeding to the court has been filed under § 4-202 of the Criminal Procedure Article; or

(d) (6) A peace order proceeding in which the victim, as defined in § 3-8A-01(cc)(1)(ii) of this subtitle, is a person eligible for relief, as defined in § 4-501 of the Family Law Article.

Code section 3-8A-05 provides that:

(a) Cases of delinquency. -- If a person is alleged to be delinquent, the age of the person at the time the alleged delinquent act was committed controls the determination of jurisdiction under this subtitle.

(b) Acts under § 3-8A-19.1(b). -- If a person is alleged to have committed an act under § 3-8A-19.1(b) of this subtitle, the age of the person at the time the alleged act was committed controls the determination of jurisdiction under this subtitle.

(c) Other cases. -- In all other cases under this subtitle the age of the child at the time the petition is filed controls the determination of jurisdiction under this subtitle.

Code section 3-8A-6 provides, in relevant part:

(a) How waived. -- The court may waive the exclusive jurisdiction conferred by § 3-8A-03 of this subtitle with respect to a petition alleging delinquency by:

(a) (1) A child who is 15 years old or older; or

(a) (2) A child who has not reached his 15th birthday, but who is charged with committing an act which if committed by an adult, would be punishable by life imprisonment.

(a) (b) Hearing -- Required; notice. -- The court may not waive its jurisdiction under this section until after it has conducted a waiver hearing, held prior to an adjudicatory hearing and after notice has been given to all parties as prescribed by the Maryland Rules. The waiver hearing is solely to determine whether the court should waive its jurisdiction.

When the juvenile court "waive[s] its jurisdiction", the child is brought before an adult court and treated as an adult.

Section 3-8a-6 further provides:

(d) (1) The court may not waive its jurisdiction under this section unless it determines, from a preponderance of the evidence presented at the hearing, that the child is an unfit subject for juvenile rehabilitative measures.

(d) (2) For purposes of determining whether to waive its jurisdiction under this section, the court shall assume that the child committed the delinquent act alleged.

(e) Criteria. -- In making its determination, the court shall consider the following criteria individually and in relation to each other on the record:

(e) (1) Age of the child;

(e) (2) Mental and physical condition of the child;

(e) (3) The child's amenability to treatment in any institution, facility, or program available to delinquents;

(4) The nature of the offense and the child's alleged participation in it; and

(e) (5) The public safety.

(e) (f) Procedures. -- If jurisdiction is waived under this section, the court shall order the child held for trial under the regular procedures of the court which would have jurisdiction over the offense if committed by an adult. The petition alleging delinquency shall be considered a charging document for purposes of detaining the child pending a bail hearing.

Falsifying Age

The question now asserts:

Falsifying your age for any reason (other than a social fib) is normally considered illegal.

This is by no means generally true. Falsifying age to obtain a benefit not otherwise available, such as a reduced price, is fraud. Also unlawful is falsifying age to purchase age-restricted products, such as alcohol. But except where a specific law creates one, there is no general legal duty to provide one's true age.

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  • "But in other cases there may be no such legal duty, and providing a false age or birth date may be perfectly lawful." Can you provide a more specific example of where providing a false birth may be perfectly lawful? (besides what I termed a "social fib", e.g. lying at a night club to hook up with someone...) Apr 5 at 2:21
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    @MichaelHall "93% of Steam Users Born on January 1st"
    – Dan M.
    Apr 5 at 12:04
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    @MichaelHall True, and I probably shouldn't have put a response to it at the start of my answer. Note that even when a birth date is asked on some "official" form, there is not a legal duty to provide a correct answer unless some specific law imposes such a duty. Apr 5 at 14:46
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    @Michael Hall Such forms do not, in my experience, cite the laws, if any, behind their demands. To give a reliable answer I would need to pick out such a form, find the law or regulation that authorizes it, and see if it specifically requires an accurate provision of birth date. I am not going to undertake that as part of a side issue to this question. If you care, make it a separate question. Perhaps someone will answer with a law cite. Apr 5 at 15:35
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    @Michael Hall I intended to use Maryland as an example only. I originally intended to also cite laws from another state, but thought that would make the answer TOO long. I will look at your edit and perhaps change my answer on the birth date issue. Apr 5 at 15:59

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