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The distinction between a juvenile and an adult in criminal law

On Behalf of | May 31, 2021 | criminal law

The age at which someone is considered a juvenile versus an adult under the law can vary from state to state.  In North Carolina, the age was raised to 18 four years ago; prior to that, it had been 16 years of age. Some states are considering raising the age even higher than this as part of its criminal justice reforms. This may raise questions about what it means to be charged as a juvenile, and how the ages are selected under the law. 

What does it mean to be charged as a juvenile? 

In following with U.S. Supreme Court rulings, juveniles cannot be given the death penalty. With the exception of homicide, life without parole is also off the table for juvenile offenders. Overall, the punishments received by juveniles may differ significantly from those handed down to an adult, as the law recognizes that their brains are not fully developed and emphasis should be on rehabilitation. 

Why are some states looking to increase the “cutoff age” for juveniles? 

As officials grapple with the appropriate “cutoff age” for juvenile defenders, a great deal of research is being looked into and discussed. For example, some point to science that says that brain development does not end until age 25, and therefore, those under that age should be looked at in a different light. Others reference a decrease in juvenile crime since the separate system for young offenders has been put in place. However the issue remains very controversial with passionate advocates on both sides. 

Although the idea of increasing the age to 21 is on the table in a few states, it remains uncommon overall in the U.S. However, North Carolina does have a Restorative Justice Center that could provide a second option for those too old to be considered juveniles but still fairly young and developing. Individuals who are charged with a crime at any age and want to understand their best options and defenses should reach out to a lawyer for support with their case.