When Can a Juvenile Be Charged and Tried as an Adult?

Juvenile-Criminal-Charges-300x200Children are not considered adults until they reach 18 years of age. But what happens if a child, under the age of 18, commits a crime? Can they be charged and prosecuted as if they were an adult, or will the criminal justice system treat them as a juvenile who will be prosecuted in Juvenile Court?

Why Does It Matter?

Juveniles, that are prosecuted in Juvenile Court, are treated much less harshly than adults who are charged with the same crime in Adult Court. For one thing, it is much less likely that the juvenile will be confined in jail. Incarceration for juveniles is reserved for the most serious cases and the most violent and most chronic juvenile offenders. The main focus of Juvenile Court is to rehabilitate the juveniles. Rehabilitation, is just part of the focus in Adult Criminal Court. Adults are prosecuted and punished in Criminal Court so that the public can be protected, a message can be sent to the public, the defendant can be punished, and the defendant can be rehabilitated. Since rehabilitation is just part of the focus in Adult Criminal Court, it is much more likely that a juvenile will be incarcerated if they are prosecuted in Adult Criminal Court. Since the main focus of Juvenile Court is to rehabilitate juveniles, judges have greater flexibility to craft sentences that are less harsh than the sentences that you usually see in an adult criminal case.

2016 Changes To The Law

In 2016, the Illinois Legislature changed the law to provide that any child who is 16 and older will be automatically charged and tried as an adult if they commit certain serious criminal offenses. Those crimes are:


-Sexual Assault.

-Aggravated Battery involving the firing of a gun.

If the child is under the age of 16 and charged with any of these crimes, they can still be charged as an adult, however, prosecutors must go to court and convince a judge that the juvenile should be charged as an adult. For any crimes, other than the crimes listed above, the juvenile can be charged as an adult if the state is able to convince a judge that they should be charged as an adult.

What Factors Will A Judge Consider?

The 2 factors that a judge will consider when determining whether a juvenile should be charged as an adult are the mental capacity of the juvenile, and the background of the juvenile. The procedure begins with the prosecutor filing a Petition in Juvenile Court asking the judge in the Juvenile Court to transfer the juvenile’s criminal case to adult Criminal Court. The prosecutor and the defense, will have an opportunity to present evidence to the Court and make arguments in support of their positions. It is common to have the parties introduce medical testimony from mental health experts who will try to convince the Judge that the juvenile defendant lacks the mental capacity to understand what they did, or that something about the juvenile’s upbringing, made them unable to control their behavior or understand what they were doing. Ultimately, the decision is left to the discretion of the Juvenile Court judge and will not be overruled unless the Juvenile Court judge abused their discretion.

If a juvenile is charged and tried as an adult, their case will be transferred to adult Criminal Court. Their case will be treated just like any other adult criminal case. The same Rules of Evidence will apply to the juvenile, and any punishment levied against the juvenile will be identical to the punishment that any adult would face. If the juvenile is sentenced to prison, the juvenile will serve their prison sentence in an adult prison.

James Dimeas, is a nationally-recognized, award-winning, criminal defense lawyer, with over-28 years of experience handling juvenile criminal cases in Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Lake County. Recently, James Dimeas was named a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer in the State of Illinois for the Year 2018 and 2019” by the American Society of Legal Advocates. James Dimeas was named a “Best DUI Attorney” and a “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Chicago” by Expertise. James Dimeas was named a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer” by the National Trial Lawyers. The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys awarded James Dimeas the “Top 10 Attorney Award for the State of Illinois.” James Dimeas is rated “Superb” by AVVO, the highest possible ranking for any criminal defense lawyer in the United States. The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys recognized James Dimeas as a “10 Best Attorney for Client Satisfaction.” Attorney and Practice Magazine gave James Dimeas the “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorney Award for Illinois.

If you are a juvenile, or if you are the parent of a juvenile who is being charged with a criminal offense, you can contact James Dimeas anytime for a free and confidential consultation. You can always talk to James Dimeas personally by calling him at 847-807-7405.

Additional Blogs:

Can A Minor Be Questioned by the Police Without a Lawyer or Parent Present?, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2018.

What Happens If You Are Arrested, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2018.