In some cases, teenagers can be tried as adults when facing criminal charges. Even though someone wouldn’t technically be an adult until 18, for instance, they may be tried as if they were an adult while they are still underage.
Often, this is done when the crime that the person is accused of committing is very serious. For example, someone could be tried as an adult after a first-degree murder charge.
One of the main reasons why the courts do this is simply because the severity of the crime is so significant, and they may claim that the person was old enough to know what they were doing. Maybe they clearly premeditated the event, for example, and planned it in advance. The second reason that courts do this is when they believe that it can protect the public. If they think the person is likely to commit the same crime again in the future, trying them as an adult could lead to a life sentence that prevents this.
The cutoff is 16 in California
One important thing to note is that California recently raised the age limit. This started in 2019, when a new law said that no one under 16 could be tried as an adult. This was challenged and went to the California Supreme Court in 2021, where the court confirmed it.
In the past, a judge would have more of a say in the matter. If they looked at the person’s record and considered the nature of the crime they committed, even if that person was as young as 14, the judge could decide if they should be charged as an adult. But this new law means that this is no longer allowed, and the number of these cases has dropped substantially.
It’s important for those who are facing legal charges to understand all of their options, especially as laws change over time.