How does Juvenile Sentencing Differ from Adult Sentencing?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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Juvenile sentencing differs from adult sentencing in several different ways, mostly that its primary aim is always rehabilitation of the juvenile, rather than punishment. Juvenile court proceedings are typically reserved for offenders under the age of 18, though the circumstances may dictate that the minor be tried as an adult and submit to the formal court process. Juvenile proceedings are often less formal and it is not always necessary for the juvenile to be represented by an attorney. Another major difference between adult and juvenile sentencing is that once the minor serves the punishment ordered by the court, his or her record is typically expunged of the offense.

When a juvenile is charged with a crime, he or she may be sent to a juvenile court for determination as to if he or she is to be adjudicated as delinquent. If the situation is appropriate, courts usually prefer to try minors in juvenile court rather than formally charging them. Many factors are considered in determining whether or not to try the minor in juvenile court. The main factor is the severity of the offense, but other factors include the minor’s age, past record, and social history. If the court determines that the circumstances do not dictate formal charges by necessity, then the minor will likely be tried in juvenile court.


If the minor goes through the juvenile court process and is adjudicated as delinquent, then the judge will administer a sentence — called a "disposition" in juvenile court. This juvenile sentencing may include a variety of rehabilitative options, the most drastic of which is the transfer of legal custody to a commissioner of corrections and mandating time in juvenile hall. While it is a form of incarceration, it differs from the prisons that adults are sent to in that the focus is much more on education and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Other less strict punishments include probation, counseling, fines, or community service. If the minor caused financial damage to the party he or she wronged, then he or she will often be forced to pay restitution as part of juvenile sentencing.

The length of time of juvenile sentencing varies from jurisdiction, but it also depends on the severity of the crime. In many jurisdictions, unless the crime is particularly egregious, the juvenile sentencing may only encompass time up to the minor’s 19th birthday. Some courts are authorized to mandate a sentence as far into the future as the minor’s 25th birthday. Unlike an adult sentencing, once the minor serves the rehabilitative sentence mandated by the court, the crime is typically cleared from his or her record.


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