A “Juvenile” refers to a minor under the age of 18. When a juvenile breaks the law, the process and consequences are typically different than when an adult breaks the law, under the juvenile justice system.

After an arrest, the officer will decide if the juvenile should be released to a parent or taken to a juvenile detention facility. The decision to take the juvenile to a detention facility is less common and based on the seriousness of the charges, criminal history, and whether the accused is thought to be a safety risk to the community. If a juvenile does go to a detention center, a detention hearing will quickly follow to determine if release home is indicated or if the youth should remain in detention.

Juvenile Offenses

Some of the most common juvenile criminal offenses include:

  • Assault
  • Shoplifting, theft, burglary, vandalism
  • Minor in Possession (MIP) and Minor DUI
  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Car theft
  • Sexual assault
  • Unlawful possession of a weapon

Juvenile Court

To be eligible for juvenile court, the minor must be considered a “juvenile” under state law. In Washington and in most states, the maximum age for juvenile court is 18, with a few exceptions. Juvenile court is a division of the Superior Court, established by law to deal with juvenile offenders (http://www.courts.wa.gov/) Juvenile court takes into account the seriousness of the offense as well as the offender’s history of prior offenses in determining a sentence.

Some of the purposes of juvenile court include: accountability for young people, rehabilitation, and in some cases ensuring the safety of the community.


Juvenile court may consider an alternative to formal court proceedings called “youth diversion program”. This may be indicated for a juvenile who is a first time offender or if the statute violation is less serious. In diversion, the goal is not to determine guilty versus not guilty. The juvenile and parent meet with the diversion program to determine an appropriate agreement. The agreement may include consequences such as restitution, curfew, fines, educational classes, counseling, or community service. “Partnership for Youth Justice” is the youth diversion program in King County.

In more serious cases, formal charges may be brought against a juvenile who violated a criminal statute.

Tried as an Adult

In certain circumstances, a juvenile can be tried in adult criminal court. The prosecuting attorney may request juvenile court to “decline” its jurisdiction over the accused juvenile. The juvenile would then face adult penalties. The judge makes the determination after hearing arguments from both the prosecutor and defense attorney.

Factors that drive this decision include: seriousness of the crime, criminal history of the juvenile, and age of the juvenile being accused. If the juvenile is 16 or older and the crime committed was a felony violent crime, the juvenile court jurisdiction will automatically decline and the juvenile will be tried as an adult in Superior Court. This includes felony crimes such as murder in the first or second degree and first degree offenses of assault, arson, robbery, rape, child rape, burglary, or child molestation.

Legal Representation:

If your minor child has been charged with a crime, they need high-caliber legal representation as soon as possible. Convictions on a juvenile record can come back to affect their future in significant ways. A conviction is public record in Washington State and can affect employability, college applications, or other life factors for decades after the juvenile offense occurs. These are significant charges and you should not try to tackle them without experienced counsel to advise you appropriately and advocate on your behalf.