Teenagers can prove a headache for most parents at the best of times, but when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law, things get a little more serious. It can be easy to assume that the consequences of breaking the law will be less severe if the participant is a teen, but this is not always necessarily the case.

What Does The Law Say?

According to Missouri law, any person aged 17 or over will be charged as an adult, and will potentially face the same severe consequences as a much older person convicted of the same crime. In some cases, however, teens and minors of a much younger age have found themselves tried as adults and sentenced according to the same criteria.

At present, Missouri law permits the trial and sentencing of a minor if they have committed a ‘delinquent act.’ Known as a ‘discretionary waiver,’ this act states that in the event that any juvenile aged 12 or older, is accused of an act which would be considered a felony if committed by an adult, the juvenile court has the option to waive jurisdiction. If this is the case, a teen or minor could potentially find themselves tried in the court, which would usually be given criminal jurisdiction for said offense. In short, this means that 12-year-olds could possibly find themselves being tried and sentenced as adults.

This can also extend further; legislation states that in the event that the offense is a statutorily-delineated violent offense, the transfer hearing is automatically set into motion, and the minor will be tried and sentenced as an adult.

A range of factors will impact whether a minor is tried as an adult, including the psychological history of the accused, any past criminal offenses or dealings, and any unique, unusual features relevant to the case.

Which Crimes Count?

The decision to charge and sentence as an adult is one at the discretion of the juvenile court – they are the party who will have to relinquish jurisdiction over the case. The following sentences are likely to see the offense escalated to an adult trial:

  • Arson
  • Assault with intent to kill
  • Assault with intent to maim
  • Assault with intent to rob
  • Attempted murder
  • First-degree murder
  • Second-degree murder
  • Kidnapping
  • First-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • Armed robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Bank robbery
  • Home invasion
  • Drug trafficking
  • Possession of drugs

Any participants under the age of 12 may find their case redirected if they commit any of the offenses included above. It is important to remember, however, that the prosecution can, in theory, request to escalate any offense to be tried and sentenced as an adult.

Likelihood of Escalation

In some cases, you may find that the offense committed by the minor may not meet the requirements for an automatic waiver of the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. There are circumstances, however, where these situations can still see the accused tried and sentenced as an adult; the decision to pursue this falls with the prosecutor.

In order for the case to be escalated, the prosecuting team must first request a hearing with the judge – this can be done even if the crime is not on the list above. The judge called is then responsible for deciding whether it is in the best interests of the offender, as well as the wider public’s safety, to allow the juvenile court to waive their jurisdiction and subsequently try the offender as an adult. If successful, courts will also then have the power to sentence according to adult terms.

There are a few factors that must be considered during this hearing for the waiver to proceed. These include:

  • How serious the alleged offense is, and whether there are any aggravating factors involved. These may include the impact on the victim, and the use of any weapons such as firearms.
  • The criminal responsibility of the offender – to what extent were they involved in the planning and execution of the crime?
  • Whether the offender has any previous record of criminal activity or delinquency. Police or school records may be used to help determine this.
  • The willingness of the offender to participate in rehabilitation programs, such as those focused on juvenile justice.
  • Whether any rehabilitation program or punishment which can be offered by the justice system is adequate for the crime committed.
  • The possible outcomes available for the offender and the suitability of these to the individual circumstances of the case.

These arguments will be put forward to the judge by the prosecution, while the job of the defense team is to convince the court that the case is best remaining in the juvenile system. This is a process known as a ‘waiver hearing,’ and is an integral aspect of the case. If the judge grants the waiver, the offender will automatically be tried as an adult, with the higher punishments which are available.

What Can I Do?

If you are a parent of a teen charged with a serious offense, or a teenage offender yourself, it is imperative that you access accurate, professional advice as soon as possible. Here at Grafe and Batchelor, P.C., we have a combined experience of over 30 years in the criminal legal system.

A top-quality defense team is your most important tool if you or your teen find themselves facing a juvenile court waiver. The waiver hearing is the only opportunity you will have to keep the case in the juvenile system, and so it is critical that you employ experienced and qualified criminal defense attorneys to help.

Get In Touch

Time is vital in these cases, so make sure that you contact us as soon as possible. We will be able to work with you, offering a bespoke, personalized service that is relevant to your own unique needs and requirements. Our decision to focus mainly on criminal law has allowed us to build up a secure background, leaving you assured that you and your teen are in our capable, confident hands.