Does Arizona Believe in Juvenile Rehabilitation?
Why is my teenager being charged in adult court? As an Arizona juvenile defense attorney with experience as a juvenile judge pro tem, I hear this question on a regular basis. Somewhere deep in our minds, we all know that it does not take a bazooka to kill a mosquito. Yet loving parents and grandparents often believe that is exactly what has happened when their young offender is prosecuted in adult court.
In theory, the underlying purpose of juvenile court is rehabilitation, not punishment. To assist in that endeavor, juvenile court comes with a host of distinct legal terms. The following table contains some of the most common adult criminal court terms and their juvenile court counterparts:
|Adult Court||Juvenile Court|
|Pretrial Conference||Non-Witness Pre-Adjudication Hearing|
This difference in terminology is not mere window dressing. Juvenile court terms invoke distinct legal rights and consequences. For example, juveniles do not have the right to post bond. Juveniles never have the right to a jury trial. An adult convicted of drug possession now has a criminal conviction that must be disclosed on all future job applications. And while certain employers (like the FBI) will specifically ask about juvenile arrests and how those arrests were resolved, in most instances, a teenage drug user (who was adjudicated delinquent) can honestly tell a potential employer that he or she has no criminal convictions. Thus, in certain key aspects, juvenile court is like the Las Vegas of the criminal court system – what happens in juvenile court, (as a general rule) stays in juvenile court.
Given the emphasis on rehabilitation, the juvenile courts of most states keep jurisdiction beyond an offender’s eighteenth birthday. That way, if a juvenile has a brain cramp just before he or she becomes an adult, society still has plenty of time to “rehabilitate” him or her and not saddle the young offender with an adult criminal history.
Arizona is bizarrely unique, however, when it comes to teenage offenders. Where most states focus on the offender’s age on the date of the offense, Arizona law fixates on the how old the offender is when he or she is hauled into court. This is because Arizona juvenile courts lose jurisdiction when a teenager turns eighteen. As a result, Arizona prosecutors have a nasty habit of sending many fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-old offenders to adult court because there is not enough time for rehabilitative measures to work.
A delay in charging is also extremely common. Over the years, I have seen way too many cases of seventeen year old stupidity get charged as an adult crime after the offender turned eighteen. Once an Arizona teenager has been charged in adult court, there is no way to have the case sent back to juvenile court, and that young man or young woman is now facing full blown adult punishment.
Arizona juvenile court statutes, rules and procedures are vastly different from the adult judicial system. It is important to hire an attorney who is familiar with juvenile law. Oftentimes, the most single important thing an attorney can do is to keep your teenager out of adult court. Our attorneys have vast experience is all aspects of juvenile court litigation. If your son or daughter has been arrested, please give us a call at (480) 833-2341.