When is a Minor Charged as an Adult?

Children Charged As Adults

     Common law, for quite a long time, stated that a child under the age of 14 was not capable of forming criminal intent (a guilty mind).   Modern society, and the laws associated with governing society, changed. Virtually every state in America has statutes related to charging and punishing children as adults for certain crimes.  The debate about charging and punishing children as adults is ongoing and the law always evolving.

In Arizona, if a child commits a certain kind of crime, he/she will automatically be indicted as an adult, tried as an adult, and be imprisoned as an adult.   A youth between ages 15 and 18 who commits murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, and forcible sexual assault, armed robbery, or any other violent offense shall be tried as an adult in criminal court.  ARS 13-501.

A youth who is at least 14 years of age, and who has been convicted in the Juvenile Court of two prior felonies and is then arrested for a third felony may be tried as an adult in criminal court if the County Attorney believes it is necessary to protect the public. ARS 13-501.  On a motion to transfer a juvenile up to adult court, a judge must make two determinations:   1) whether there is probable cause to proceed; and 2) whether the juvenile should be transferred to the adult court to protect the community after a consideration of the seriousness of the alleged offense and the manner it was caused, whether a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument was used, whether it was a crime against property or person; whether anyone was injured as a result of the juvenile’s actions, whether the juvenile was acting with or in furtherance of gang activity; the juvenile’s sophistication and maturity, the juvenile’s physical, mental and emotional condition, the juveniles previous juvenile history, and the prospects for adequate protection of the public.

Are there reasons to treat youth offenders differently than adult offenders?   Does the severity of the crime matter?  Such questions invoke the constant interplay between Constitutional Law, neuroscience and behavioral research.

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