There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens when a minor is charged with a crime. If we were to believe what we see on TV crime dramas, minors would never face serious charges and always get by with a slap on the wrist.
The reality is much different. There are a lot of circumstances where a minor charged with a crime can still face serious consequences that will impact their future.
Here are some common myths about juvenile crime.
Juvenile records are automatically sealed
This is a common source of confusion. Most of the time a juvenile’s records are automatically confidential, but that doesn’t mean they are sealed. There are some records for very serious crimes like murder and felonies that are open to the public. But other records are considered “confidential,” which means that only certain people can get access to the record and then, only portions of the record.
To get the record of a juvenile offense “sealed,” there is a whole different process to go through. The juvenile must wait three years to begin the process, and met all obligations to the court. The juvenile must also have not had any other offenses during those three years. The final step in the process is getting a judge’s approval. Once approved, the offender can fill out school and employment applications like the offense never happened.
18 is the magic age to get tried as an adult
The reality is that the way a minor is charged in California is more complicated than looking at their age. Often there must be a “fitness” trial to determine if the minor should be tried as an adult. However, for a more serious crime, like some gang-related crimes, the prosecutor can request to bypass a fitness trial and charge someone as young as 14 as an adult.
Being a minor will make drug and alcohol offenses less severe
The reality here is complicated. While a minor might still be tried as a minor and not have the same consequences as an adult, there are other consequences that a minor may face with a drug or alcohol-related offense.
For example, a minor could face a suspended driver’s license even without having a driver’s license yet. In that case, the suspension would start when the minor becomes eligible for a driver’s license and the minor would have to wait for that suspension period to pass before being able to get a driver’s license.