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When Are Juveniles Tried As Adults?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

June 2, 2021

When you think of juvenile delinquents, you likely picture teenagers spray painting graffiti, ding-dong-ditching, or loitering outside of a mall. What happens, though, when those juveniles commit ‘adult-level’ crimes like assault or even murder? How does our criminal justice system handle minors who commit major crimes?

About The Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system was created to handle minors who are in trouble with the law. This system places more emphasis on rehabilitating the minor rather than punishing them. There is an understanding that juvenile brains are not fully developed, they have different values, and therefore behave differently. The system seeks to understand the needs of juveniles, treat them, and hopefully deter them from committing crimes as adults.

Being Waived To Adult Court

If the juvenile court feels like the minor can’t be helped, they can file a request to send the minor to the adult system. This is referred to as being waived to the adult criminal system.

Juveniles can also immediately be sent to the adult system based on ‘statutory exclusion.’ This means that certain serious crimes are automatically sent to be prosecuted in the adult system. For example, a juvenile who committed first-degree murder may immediately be sent to the adult court.

Crimes that may lead the juvenile to be waived to adult court include:

  • Murder
  • Armed robbery
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • If they have a long past record of delinquency

Differences Between The Two Systems

The adult system varies from the juvenile system in many ways.


Rather than being ‘found guilty,’ the juvenile justice system refers to it as ‘adjudicated delinquent.’


As stated, the juvenile justice system’s foundation is based on rehabilitating minors. In the adult system, the focus is more punitive. The goal is to deter offenders by punishing them.


In Florida, juvenile records are typically erased once the individual turns 24. Additionally, they may be erased earlier if the juvenile completed a diversion program. A diversion program is an alternative to formally charging the minor. For example, completing a mentoring program rather than being sentenced.

As an adult, however, criminal records are public and permanent. If a 14 year old were to be tried as an adult, that would not go away after they are 24. It would be with them forever.

Bail or Bond

In the adult system, the defendant has the right to post bail in some cases. In the juvenile system, the juvenile may be held in ‘preventative detention’ to protect themselves or the community while their case is being handled.

The Role of Social History

In juvenile hearings, the judge takes the juvenile’s background into consideration for sentencing. What struggles has the juvenile gone through in their formative years that may have led to their delinquency? Is there a treatment program that can help more than detention would?

In adult trials, the focus is on legal facts and the crime at hand. There is less emphasis on understanding the defendant’s personal background.

Concerns About Waiving Juveniles To The Adult System

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has conducted extensive research to understand the impacts of trying juveniles as adults.

They have concluded that by moving minors into the adult system, it may stunt their positive growth toward becoming law-abiding adults. It can harm relationships, personal identity, and learning.

The OFFDP also found that compared to juveniles who remained in the juvenile justice system, youths who are transferred to the adult system are more likely to re-offend when released.

Juvenile Criminal Attorneys

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., we know that teenagers make mistakes, and we want to protect your child’s future. Call today at (386) 693-1637 to set up an immediate initial consultation with one of our Daytona Beach defense attorneys.