There are a lot of misconceptions about how minors under the age of 18 are charged if they commit crimes. Many people believe that all juvenile crimes are considered “juvenile delinquents,” held in juvenile detention centers, and released upon their 18th birthday. Many also believe that all records of juvenile crime are sealed.
However, in Oklahoma, a minor who commits a crime may be charged one of three ways: as a juvenile, as a youthful offender, or as an adult.
Clearly, not all juvenile crimes are the same: shoplifting a pair of jeans does not carry the same weight as forcible rape. Still, many people would agree that a teen accused of a crime does not typically have the cognitive function and impulse control that he or she will develop as an adult. The motives for juvenile crimes are typically much different than adult crimes.
In recognition of these differences, the state passed the Oklahoma Youthful Offenders Act in 1994. This act allows juveniles accused of crimes to be charged one of three different ways:
Youthful offender status allows the state to levy harsher consequences for serious offenses than would be given through the juvenile justice system, yet provides rehabilitation opportunities that would not be available for a minor convicted as an adult.
Under Oklahoma law, minors under the age of 18 who commit certain crimes are not “convicted” of those crimes, but rather adjudicated delinquent by the juvenile court system. Typically, a child or teen who is adjudicated delinquent may spend some time in a juvenile detention facility, and his or her juvenile record will be sealed. If the minor is in the custody of the Office of Juvenile Affairs he or she will likely be released around the time of his or her 18th birthday.
Juvenile delinquent adjudication is typically reserved for young minors—often aged 15 or younger—or for those who commit relatively minor offenses, such as petty theft, simple assault, public intoxication, or drug possession.
Under the Youthful Offender Act, teens aged 15 to 17 who commit serious crimes are prosecuted as youthful offenders. If convicted, a youthful offender typically begins his or her sentence in the juvenile system. If he or she reaches the age of 18 while serving the sentence, he may be transferred to an adult facility to complete the sentence.
However, 18 is not a magic number in these cases. In some cases, a teen may be transferred to an adult facility before turning 18, if he or she is not complying with the terms of rehabilitation.
In other cases—particularly in the case of offenders who enter the system in their late teens—the juvenile system may retain custody of the person until he or she reaches the age of 20. This gives the person a chance to complete rehabilitation before entering the adult system.
A youthful offender is given an adult sentence. However, if he or she shows significant signs of rehabilitation, the youthful offender may be able to be released from custody at the age of 21. If he or she fails to do so, he or she will be transferred to an adult facility at either age 18 or 20 to serve the remainder of the sentence.
Youthful offenders are teens aged 15 to 17 charged with certain crimes:
Age 15, 16, or 17:
Age 16 or 17:
It is important to note that under Oklahoma law, once a person has been certified a youthful offender in any proceeding, he or she will remain a youthful offender in all subsequent criminal cases until he or she reaches the age of 18.
Only under very serious circumstances are minors charged as adults in Oklahoma. Under state law, teens as young as 13 are tried as adults if they are charged with first degree murder.
While older teens aged 15, 16, or 17 are not eligible for the provisions of the Youthful Offender program, minors aged 13 or 14 who are charged with first degree murder may be certified as a youthful offender if his or her attorney files a "motion for certification as a youthful offender or a juvenile before the start of the criminal preliminary hearing."
However, even if the child is only 13 or 14 years old, if he or she has previously been certified as an adult, the minor is not eligible for a reverse waiver for youthful offender or juvenile status. Just as a minor who has been certified as a youthful offender remains a youthful offender in subsequent cases, a minor who is certified as an adult will be tried as an adult in all subsequent cases.
Having a child facing criminal conviction is terrifying for the parent and child alike. No one wants to see a child suffer a lifetime of consequences for a youthful mistake. To learn more about the charges your child is facing and how to best fight the charges, call to schedule a free consultation with attorney Ryan Coventon at (405) 417-3842.