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The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act

If a person under the age of 18 years old violates a federal law, he or she is considered to have committed an act of juvenile delinquency. In some cases, defendants between the ages of 18 and 21 years old can actually be processed as a juvenile, which can have important repercussions for sentencing and expunging their criminal record at a later date, so if your child was recently charged with a federal crime, it is critical to speak with an experienced federal crime attorney who can help ensure that he or she is tried as a juvenile and not as an adult.

Federal Law

Juvenile offenders are not often adjudicated in the federal system, as federal law requires prosecutors to restrict proceedings to cases where there is a substantial federal interest and where:

  • The state where the alleged offense occurred does not have or refuses jurisdiction;
  • The state with jurisdiction doesn’t have adequate services or programs for young offenders; or
  • The offense is a violent felony, firearm-related crime, or a drug importation or trafficking offense.

Because the federal justice system doesn’t have a separate juvenile justice system, youthful offenders are tried in a U.S. district court in a closed hearing. In the event that a juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, another hearing will be held to determine the individual’s sentence, which could include probation, commitment to a correctional facility, or an order to pay restitution. Generally, juveniles under the age of 18 years old can only be committed until the age of 21 years old or if between the ages of 18 and 21 years old for up to five years.

Transfer to Adult Status

A youthful offender under the age of 18 years old can be tried as an adult in federal court if he or she:

  • Was over the age of 15 years old and is charged with a violent felony, or a drug trafficking or importation offense;
  • Was over the age of 13 years old and is charged with possessing a firearm during a violent offense; or
  • Had been adjudicated delinquent of a violent felony or a drug offense on a prior occasion.

It is also important to note that defendants who commit acts of juvenile delinquency, but are not actually indicted until after they turn 21 years old, do not fall under the purview of the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act and must be prosecuted as adults. This can have important repercussions for youthful defendants, as adults face much more severe sentences if convicted. There is only one exception to this rule, which applies when a defendant can prove that the delay in prosecution caused him or her substantial prejudice and was also an intentional strategy to gain a tactical advantage.

Contact a Federal Crime Attorney

Being convicted of a federal crime while a minor can have devastating consequences for a person’s future, so if your child is being charged as an adult, please call dedicated Miami federal crime attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner at (305) 670-9919 for a free case evaluation.

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