Pending Legislation Would Try 19, 20, and 21-Year-Olds as Juveniles
Most people would consider someone 18 or older to be an adult. That person is old enough to vote, old enough to join the military without parental permission, old enough to go off to college or otherwise move away from home—in fact, old enough to do most things in society without anyone’s permission. Legally speaking, they are adults, even though they can’t legally drink alcohol—but that’s another story.
An 18-year-old charged with a crime is always, everywhere, without question, arrested and charged with criminal offenses as an adult. The state criminal justice system will oversee their criminal case and, if they receive a jail sentence, they will go to the same jail or prison as all the other convicted adults. There is no other option, legally, because an 18-year-old is, after all, an adult. Right?
Well, this may not be the case for much longer in Illinois due to a bill being considered by the Illinois Senate. A proposed amendment to the Children and Family Services Act would require the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission to submit recommendations to the governor and legislature that “emerging adults” be subject to a “developmentally appropriate justice system.” The legislation also would amend the Juvenile Court Act to provide that individuals who are younger than 21 be treated as juveniles in criminal proceedings for misdemeanor offenses.
What Does It Take to Be an Adult?
Supporters of the legislation cite research that contends that human brains are not fully formed until at least 26 years old, and perhaps as late as 30. The sponsors of the legislation in the state senate isn’t going that far, but they believe that the legislation would help many emerging adults jailed for misdemeanor charges to avail themselves of the lighter penalties and rehabilitative opportunities of the juvenile justice system.
Opponents counter that the juvenile system already is overcrowded, underfunded, and overwhelmed, and that this legislation would only make things worse. Opponents also point out that many Illinois counties already have developed diversion programs that keep first-time misdemeanor offenders out of jail and in programs to help them without any state mandates requiring them to do so. They believe that these programs should be protection enough for young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 facing misdemeanor charges.
Even under the proposed legislation, prosecutors could seek the transfer of cases to adult court, and judges still could decide if a defendant should face adult penalties. While those decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, there seems to be no provision that prohibits a prosecutor from always seeking to try those between 19 and 21 years old in adult courts, nor to prevent a judge from always giving such misdemeanor offenders adult sentences.
While research argues in favor of treating 19- and 20-year-olds—and even older young adults, as well—as juveniles in criminal prosecutions, there also is research that indicates that the greater penalties imposed on offenders who are 18 or older serve as a deterrent to committing crimes in the future and for others in the community. Such research found that young people dramatically reduce criminal activity upon reaching 18 as a result of the stiffer penalties that most states impose upon reaching that age. When someone sees an 18-year-old friend go to state prison, they may be less likely to commit crimes themselves as they know the possible consequences are very real.
Among the reasons given for raising the age for juvenile offenders by researchers who find a benefit to such actions is that even at 19 or 20—and older—the brain is not sufficiently developed to fully comprehend the consequences of criminal actions. Therefore, they argue, we should not expect these young adults to serve full adult sentences since they did not understand the possible penalties for their offenses. On the other hand, other research indicates that treating adults like children infantilizes them and creates a cycle of dependence in which a nominal adult needs constant guidance on what to do, when, and how.
You Should Still Take Juvenile Offenses Seriously
Just because the state may try young adults as juveniles does not mean they are completely off the hook and will not face consequences for criminal activity. They will simply go through a different process than they would in adult criminal court. The juvenile system has different procedures and rights for defendants, such as not having the automatic right to an attorney before police questioning. It is critical to hire a defense lawyer who has experience with juvenile prosecutors and courts.
Depending on the offense in question, a juvenile may be released to the custody of parents or legal guardians, or they may have to stay in a secure facility for the duration of their cases. Juveniles who receive detention sentences may serve it in a separate facility or in an adult facility, though the law requires that juveniles cannot see or hear adult offenders. However, serious juvenile offenses can also result in severe consequences.
The Criminal Attorneys of Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Will Watch This Legislation With Great Interest
The legislation before the Illinois senate has the potential to dramatically alter the state’s juvenile justice system. From a criminal defense perspective, the legislation, if passed, would provide another tool for helping defendants obtain less punitive sentences in misdemeanor cases.
For that reason, the criminal attorneys of Martin & Kent, L.L.C, will closely monitor the legislation. If it is enacted, Martin & Kent will be prepared to use every effort to keep appropriate cases in juvenile court.
In the meantime, if you are facing criminal charges, juvenile or adult, seek the assistance of the criminal defense attorneys of Martin & Kent, L.L.C. For a consultation in DuPage, Kane, or Cook County, contact them 24 hours a day at (630) 474-8000.