These courts are generally much more lenient in their treatment of the defendant, who is still undergoing the process of maturity and reform, whereas adult crimes committed by young adults are considered much more severe.
Governing Juvenile Delinquency and Youthful Offenders are often dictated by the doctrine of ParensPatriae. The doctrine of parenspatriae allows the state to essentially act as a parent, by legislation, for the maintenance of, custody of the children, and protection of the children within the state. The Minor is considered a resident of the state in which that person has legal custody of the minor.
In many U.S. states, minors are classified as status offenders when disobeying their parents or committing prohibited acts based on age. This occurs when a minor is under the age of 18 and engages in the behavior, while not considered criminal by adults, is prohibited due to the age of the minor offender. This behavior can include: skipping school, running away from home, curfew violations, drinking alcohol, smoking, and other illegal behaviors.
If a juvenile commits an act violating any state or federal law, they qualify to be tried as adults. If convicted, the youth would face the same punishments as any other adult. In California, the juvenile crimes are:
Vehicle Code violations: Under the California Vehicle Code, it is illegal to drive with an unlawful blood alcohol concentration (drunk driving), drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more while under 21, provide alcohol or marijuana or both to a minor, use any imitation firearm that the minor knows to be a firearm, or even provide minor with any firearm.
Assault: California Penal Code 1170 PC defines assault as an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another. It is also referred to as a criminal battery.
Assault with a deadly weapon can have additional charges such as inflicting significant bodily injury, using a dangerous or deadly weapon, or even sometimes a sentence enhancement. A sentence enhancement is an additional stayed punishment that the judge can add should the convicted act be determined to be particularly heinous or cruel.
The most extreme punishment a juvenile offender can receive is the death penalty.
In addition to specialized courts of law for juvenile offenses, they are also detained in separate facilities that target rehabilitation, called juvenile corrections. These include short-term facilities called juvenile halls and short-term juvenile detention facilities, while longer-term facilities include secure juvenile facilities.
This corrections system includes social workers and probation officers, and the end goal is to rehabilitate the offender and deter them from repeat offenses. They strive to help the juvenile avoid a life of crime by teaching helpful and effective coping and social skills.
In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons case that juveniles could not receive the death penalty for crimes they had committed. The ruling also stated that the decision to try a juvenile as an adult is solely the justice system's decision.