National media attention has focused recently on the arrest of a number of high school students south of Morristown on sexual assault and related charges. The defendants are senior members of the football team accused of victimizing younger team members in the locker room.
Because the defendants are under the age of 18, the case has thus far been handled within the juvenile law system. There is talk, however, that the prosecution may seek to try them as adults. This is a prosecutorial tactic that may be used against juveniles in many different types of situations, so let’s look briefly at just what the differences are between trying juveniles as opposed to adults.
Perhaps the most obvious, overarching difference is that juvenile defendants don’t face the same degree of penalties as adults. If they are convicted and sentenced to incarceration, they will serve their time at designated juvenile centers as opposed to the adult prison system. Any record of juvenile convictions would be wiped clean upon reaching the age of 18, as opposed to an adult criminal record.
Focusing more narrowly on the types of charges in the cases above may serve to further highlight the differences. For example, a juvenile charged with aggravated sexual assault faces up to five years at a juvenile detention center; an adult might be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison. Aggravated assault related charges have similarly reduced sentences for juveniles. Hazing could land an adult in prison for over a year, but juveniles would typically not face incarceration for this crime.
When prosecutors try to elevate charges or waive the defendants to the adult court system, juvenile defendants often benefit from the having the experience of a criminal defense professional on their team. These are legal issues in which a skilled defense can make a significant difference.