Trying Juvenile Offenders As Adults

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In the state of Ohio, someone under age 18 — i.e., a minor —  can be tried as an adult, if he or she was 14 or older at the time of committing the crime. In some cases, trial as an adult is even mandatory, and it can be ordered by the court in other cases.

In either case, the services of a legal team with extensive experience in juvenile law can make the difference.

Adult trial is mandatory in serious cases when the court finds probable cause that the juvenile committed the offense and when the following situations apply:

  • The child faces charges of aggravated murder or murder, and is 16 or 17 — as in the recent case of school shooter T.J. Lang, who was 17 when he allegedly killed three students. Or the child, under the same charges, is 14 or 15 and has been committed to an Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility.
  • The child faces serious felony charges, is 16 or 17 and either used a firearm while committing the offense or was previously committed to a DYS facility.

When trial as adult is not mandatory, the court can choose to pursue it. Once probable cause is established, the court will order an investigation, including a mental examination. Then a hearing will determine whether the child is likely to be rehabilitated within the juvenile system, and whether community safety requires that the child be subject to adult penalties.

If it is determined that the child will stand trial as an adult, the juvenile court sets the terms of bail and orders custody to be transferred. If convicted, any incarceration is to an adult facility and any probation will be supervised by a probation officer who supervises adult offenders.

If a child’s case remains in juvenile court, there are alternatives to extend his or her time in a DYS facility, including imposing consecutive sentences for multiple charges, or adding additional time if a firearm was used.

The court may impose a “serious youthful offender” (SYO) sentence under certain circumstances. In this situation, a child is given a traditional juvenile sentence along with an “adult” sentence. But the adult sentence is “stayed” or delayed if the offender successfully completes the juvenile portion.