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When Are You a Juvenile and When Are You an Adult?

The answer to this question is complicated because, under Missouri law, when you are considered an adult and when you are considered a minor or juvenile varies with the circumstance.

At age 17, you will be tried as an adult for any crime that you commit and with which you are charged.

If you commit an of­fense at age 16 or younger, the police will refer your case to the juvenile court.

At any age, if you are alleged to have committed a serious offense such as murder, sale of drugs, robbery, rape or assault, or if you are a repeat offender, the juvenile court may certify you as an adult and transfer you to the adult criminal sys­tem.

At age 12, the juvenile court can also certify you as an adult for other serious crimes, such as stealing a car, drug possession and carrying a weapon.

What Should You Do if Taken Into Custody?

If a law enforcement officer takes you to the police station or to the juvenile court and intends to keep you there for a period of time, you are “being taken into custody.” If this happens to you, give your name, ad­dress and age and your parents’ names and phone numbers.

What Are Your Rights if You Are Stopped by a Police Officer?

If you are under 17 years of age and you break the law, you are taken into custody and turned over to the juvenile court. You have the same rights as does anyone else who is arrested – you do not have to say anything until you talk to a lawyer, other than identify­ing yourself by name, address and age

The law enforcement officers will take your photograph and finger­prints if you have committed a serious crime. If you are taken into custody for a minor crime, then your fingerprints may be taken only if a judge orders it.

You may be held in detention. Detention is the act of keeping a person confined or imprisoned. You must be told of the reason for your deten­tion, your right to a detention hearing (usually within three days) and your rights during detention.

How Long Can You Be Kept at a Detention Center?

You can be detained up to 24 hours without a court order. You can be detained longer by court order. Your parents must be notified as soon as practicable.

Who Decides How Your Case Will Be Handled?

The juvenile officer assigned to your case will decide how to handle your case. A juvenile court judge hears the evidence against you.

How Are Cases Handled?

Cases are handled by having a meeting at juvenile court with you and your parents or by filing a petition in juvenile court. If you are held more than 24 hours, a petition (a paper which states the charges against you) must be filed.

When is a Petition Usually Filed?

A petition is usually filed when you are charged with a serious crime, when you have been held more than 24 hours, or when you have been in trouble before.

Who Decides if You Can Be Tried as an Adult?

  1. A juvenile court judge will decide whether you will be tried as an adult after reading the charges brought against you, after looking at your record and after holding a hearing. The judge will consider the seriousness of the charges, whether your community needs to be protected from you, whether the crime involved force or violence, whether you hurt another person, whether you have a record of break­ing the law, and your age.
  2. If you are tried as an adult and found guilty, there are several things that may happen to you. You may be sent immediately to an adult prison. You may spend some time at a juvenile detention center and then be sent later to an adult prison. You may be placed on probation and given a second chance to stay out of trouble. If you are convicted of first degree murder and you were 16 years old at the time of the murder, you could receive the death penalty. If you are tried as an adult and found guilty of a crime, you will always be tried as an adult for any crime.

What Happens if You Are Not Tried as an Adult?

A hearing is held in juvenile court. You have the right to a lawyer paid by your parents. If your parents cannot pay a lawyer, the judge will appoint a lawyer for you. You have a right to plead “not guilty” and have a trial in front of the judge in juvenile court. If you say you are guilty or you are found guilty after the trial, the judge will decide what to do with you. The hearing and trial in the juvenile court will be open to the public if you are accused of committing a serious crime.

What Might the Court Decide to Do With You?

You might become a ward of the court. That means the court will super­vise you. You might be returned home in the custody of your parents, with court-ordered visits with the juvenile officer. You might be sent to a foster home, a group home or other institution. You might be ordered to perform community service or pay restitution to the victim. If you cause damage to property or injure a person, your parents may also have to pay up to $4,000 for damages and injuries.

How Long Can the Court Keep You in Custody?

The court can keep you in custody until you are 21 years of age.

How Does Trouble With the Law Affect You?

  • You can lose your driver’s license or have it suspended.
  • Your school can find out that you have been in trouble with the juvenile court and you could possibly be suspended from school for up to one year. If a court finds that you have committed a very serious felony, including sale of drugs, you will be expelled from school and may not be readmitted.
  • Your juvenile court record can be seen by the juvenile court, county prosecutors and circuit court judges. If the juvenile court finds you to be a juvenile delinquent because you committed a serious crime, then your juvenile court record will be a public record.
  • Your juvenile record can be used to show that you should not be believed as a witness in other court proceedings. • Your juvenile record can follow you forever.