What does that mean for children charged with minor offenses in SC? What about when they are charged with more serious offenses?
As of today, there are approximately 5000 children in the system who are charged as adults – is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does it make sense to pretend like a child is an adult so that we can punish them as if they were an adult, even though they are not an adult?
In some cases, it is in the child’s best interest not to be in the juvenile court – they have more legal protections in the magistrate, municipal, or general sessions court and there is a greater likelihood that we can get their case dismissed or resolve it with minimal consequences.
In other cases, it is clearly in the child’s best interest to be in the family court. If there is a conviction (adjudication of delinquency), the record will (should) be sealed and there are more resources available to help the child get on track and, hopefully, stay out of the court system.
If your child has been charged with a crime, they need effective representation by someone who knows the juvenile justice system and who knows how best to protect them. Contact the Myrtle Beach juvenile defense lawyers at Coastal Law as soon as possible to find out how we can help.
At What Age are Juveniles Tried as Adults in SC?
The “general rule,” beginning July 1, is that juveniles will be automatically tried as adults when they are 18 years old or older. Previously, the magic number was 17.
What Does “Tried as an Adult” Mean?
“Tried as an adult” means that your child’s case will be heard in the magistrate or municipal court (for minor offenses) or general sessions court (for most offenses that carry a potential sentence of 30 days or more).
“Juvenile Court” in SC means the family court – the same court and the same judges that hear divorces, child support, child custody, alimony, and other “domestic” matters. There are benefits to being in the family court. But there are also benefits to being in “adult court.” Which court is the better option for your child depends on your child’s case and their situation.
What are the Benefits of Juvenile Court?
In the family court, whether the judge is considering child custody in a divorce case0 or punishment after a child has been “adjudicated delinquent” of a crime, the standard of “what is in the child’s best interest” should always be the guiding principle, as opposed to criminal court, where punishment and retribution are sometimes perfectly acceptable guiding principles.
Other benefits include:
- The possibility of juvenile arbitration, a diversion program that results in the dismissal of charges;
- Access to counseling services that may not otherwise be available;
- Additional support services that may be necessary from DJJ or DSS;
- The likelihood that a comprehensive evaluation will be completed, either in a facility or while living at home, that provides recommendations for the child; and
- The maximum prison sentence that can be imposed is imprisonment until the child’s 22nd birthday (it used to be the 21st birthday, but that also changes July 1).
There are also lots of nice euphemisms in the family court, like “adjudicated delinquent.” No one gets convicted in the family court, you know. Only adjudicated delinquent…
What are the Benefits of Being Tried in Adult Court?
Whether it is the lower courts or general sessions court, you have the right to a jury trial when you are tried as an adult. A child whose case is in the family court does not get a jury trial.
In some cases, where the charges should be dismissed or where there are clearly defenses at trial, your child may need a jury to acquit them. A family court judge, who will pretend to disregard inadmissible evidence that they can’t un-see and who is used to trials where the standard of proof is “more likely than not” instead of “beyond any reasonable doubt,” may be less likely to acquit a child than a jury of 12 ordinary people.
In adult court, there are more resources to prepare for trial and your child is more likely to get a fair trial. On the other hand, in the family court there are more resources for family support, counseling, and long-term support for the child, although the child is more likely to be convicted (adjudicated delinquent).
Juveniles Will Still Be Tried as Adults in SC
So, children under the age of 18 are tried in the family court, right?
Not so fast… SC Code Section 63-19-1210 provides for younger children to be charged as adults, in some cases with no age requirement.
Children 17 and older can be charged as adults in SC for minor crimes:
(4) If a child seventeen years of age or older is charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a misdemeanor, a Class E or F felony as defined in Section 16-1-20, or a felony which provides for a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or less, and if the court, after full investigation, considers it contrary to the best interest of the child or of the public to retain jurisdiction, the court, in its discretion, acting as committing magistrate, may bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offense if committed by an adult.
Children 14 and older can be charged as adults for any felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years:
(5) If a child fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen years of age is charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a Class A, B, C, or D felony as defined in Section 16-1-20 or a felony which provides for a maximum term of imprisonment of fifteen years or more, the court, after full investigation and hearing, may determine it contrary to the best interest of the child or of the public to retain jurisdiction. The court, acting as committing magistrate, may bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offenses if committed by an adult.
Or for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature:
(9) If a child fourteen years of age or older is charged with a violation of Section 16-23-430(1), Section 16-23-20, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, or Section 44-53-445, the court, after full investigation and hearing, if it considers it contrary to the best interest of the child or the public to retain jurisdiction, acting as committing magistrate, may bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offenses if committed by an adult.
Or if they have two or more prior convictions:
(10) If a child fourteen years of age or older is charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, provides for a term of imprisonment of ten years or more and the child previously has been adjudicated delinquent in family court or convicted in circuit court for two prior offenses which, if committed by an adult, provide for a term of imprisonment of ten years or more, the court acting as committing magistrate shall bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offense if committed by an adult. For the purpose of this item, an adjudication or conviction is considered a second adjudication or conviction only if the date of the commission of the second offense occurred subsequent to the imposition of the sentence for the first offense.
And, any aged child can be charged as an adult if they are accused of murder or criminal sexual conduct:
(6) Within thirty days after the filing of a petition in the family court alleging the child has committed the offense of murder or criminal sexual conduct, the person executing the petition may request in writing that the case be transferred to the court of general sessions with a view to proceeding against the child as a criminal rather than as a child coming within the purview of this chapter. The judge of the family court is authorized to determine this request. If the request is denied, the petitioner may appeal within five days to the circuit court. Upon the hearing of the appeal, the judge of the circuit court is vested with the discretion of exercising and asserting the jurisdiction of the court of general sessions or of relinquishing jurisdiction to the family court. If the circuit judge elects to exercise the jurisdiction of the general sessions court for trial of the case, he shall issue an order to that effect, and then the family court has no further jurisdiction in the matter.
SC Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach
In some cases, we may be able to prevent the transfer of your child’s case to adult court or persuade the court to transfer the case back to juvenile court. If your child has been charged with a crime, whether it is in the family court or in adult court, they need effective and experienced representation immediately.
Call now at (843) 488-5000 or send us an email to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.