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Crystal Lake IL juvenile defense attorneyIt is very scary for a parent when their child is charged with a crime, such as underage drinking or retail theft. One of the most frightening aspects is the fact that so many parents are unsure about what to expect, or the penalties their child will face. If your child has been charged with a criminal offense, answers to these common questions about Illinois juvenile law may help you better understand what can happen.

When are Minors Tried in Adult Court?

This is perhaps the most common question when a minor is charged with a crime, because a child being tried as an adult is typically the biggest fear for parents. The answer to this question largely depends on the type of criminal offense a minor is accused of committing. Minors age 17 or younger who are charged with a misdemeanor will likely remain in the juvenile system. When a minor is accused of committing a serious felony offense, they may be tried in adult court unless they are 16 years old or younger.

At What Age is a Child Considered a Juvenile?

Prior to January 10, 2010, the maximum age of a juvenile in Illinois was 16 years old. Now, however, that age has increased so that anyone 17 years old or younger is deemed a juvenile in the state. The age of juveniles is still a topic that is regularly debated within the Illinois legislature.

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McHenry County juvenile theft defense lawyerJuvenile crime has decreased over the past couple of years, but certain crimes still tend to be popular with teenagers. According to the FBI, there were more than 62,000 juveniles arrested for suspicion of committing theft or larceny in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In the United States, a juvenile is considered to be anyone who is under the age of 18, though the state of Illinois will prosecute those who are 17 or older for serious crimes. Although juveniles are typically not tried in the same court as adults, they may face similar charges and penalties that can become very serious rather quickly.

What is Retail Theft?

Illinois law not only defines the offense of general theft, which occurs when someone unlawfully takes possession or control of property that belongs to someone else, but also the specific offense of retail theft. Retail theft occurs when a person takes possession of, carries away, or transfers any merchandise from a retail establishment with the purpose of depriving the merchant of the benefit or full or partial retail value of the merchandise.

Retail theft is a Class A misdemeanor as long as the retail value of the merchandise that was stolen was no greater than $300. Penalties for a Class A misdemeanor include up to one year in jail, up to $2,500 in fines, and/or up to two years of probation. If the retail value of the merchandise exceeds $300, then the charge is increased to a Class 4 felony. Penalties for Class 4 felonies include one to three years in prison, up to $25,000 in fines, and/or up to 30 months of probation.

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Illinois Inconsistently Applies Juvenile Detention PolicyIllinois has amended its juvenile crime laws in recent years to try to reduce the lasting damage that the justice system can cause. It is more difficult for the state to try a juvenile as an adult and easier for juvenile offenders to seal or clear their records. However, the use of detention centers is still negatively affecting some juveniles. Even police detention after an arrest can psychologically damage a child. Juvenile advocates are challenging the detention system, saying that detention centers do not meet the goal of rehabilitating the children.

Statistics Suggest Harm

Studies of people who served time in a juvenile detention facility as children show that the use of detention facilities often correlates with:

  • Lower high school graduation rates;
  • Lower rates of employment and income potential;
  • Higher occurrences of mental illness; and
  • Greater likelihood of becoming a repeat offender.

Other studies have concluded that areas that more often offer alternatives to juvenile detention have lower rates of juvenile crime.

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Keeping Minors in Juvenile Court Usually Most AppropriateFor minors accused of committing a crime, there is a vital difference between being tried as a juvenile and being tried as an adult. Juvenile courts can be more lenient towards defendants and have fewer long-term consequences because:

  • The system focuses more on rehabilitation and education;
  • Sentencing periods tend to be shorter; and
  • It is easier to seal or expunge a juvenile offense from someone’s record.

State prosecutors will sometimes be overzealous in charging a juvenile as an adult. A court can dismiss adult charges against a juvenile if the charges are inappropriate based on the defendant's age.

Juvenile vs. Adult

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