Fortunately, our justice system is typically more lenient when it comes to charging minors with crimes. However, occasionally a teenager can receive the same sentence they would receive if they were an adult, including the same fines and prison sentence. Luckily, these occurrences are limited to a few specific circumstances.
It depends on a couple of factors
Each state has a different list of crimes that would qualify a minor to be tried as an adult. In addition, each state has a minimum age limit for trying a minor as an adult. In other words, no matter how severe the crime allegedly committed, a nine-year-old will never be tried as an adult, because they haven’t met the statutory minimum age.
Under Arizona law, an adult charge is limited to teen between the ages of 15 and 17. In addition, it will only happen if the crime they’re being charged for are one of the following:
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Forcible sexual assault
- Violent felony offenses such as armed robbery
- Any felony if the minor is a chronic repeat offender
Arizona also provides for a 14-year-old to be tried as an adult, but under more limited circumstances.
It’s mostly up to the juvenile court judge’s discretion
If the prosecutor brings a case before a juvenile court against a 15, 16 or 17 year old, the judge has discretion to hear the case or not.
If they feel it is in the interest of justice – and if it’s allowed by statute – they can transfer the case to a criminal court and have the minor tried as an adult.
It is always a tragic event when a minor is tried in court as an adult. The negative impacts on their life will last much longer than the criminal trial, even if they get an acquittal. Thankfully, our justice system has strict rules about when and how this can happen.