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How Does Massachusetts Law Affect Underage Offenders?

Posted on : December 15, 2020, By:  Tom Kokonowski, Esq.
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Massachusetts tends to be tough on underage offenders in an attempt to deter them from recidivism, or committing another crime. To best support your child during their criminal proceedings, it’s best to have a good basic understanding of how Massachusetts law treats underage offenders. Here’s what is important to know. 

What Is An Underage or Juvenile Offender? 

A minor that is accused of committing a crime is considered a juvenile under Massachusetts law when they are between the ages of 12 and 18. The minimum age for criminal responsibility was raised in 2019 from 7 to 12, and younger offenders are generally provided with intensive behavioral health treatment. 

Are Children Always Charged As Juveniles? 

Even if a minor falls in the age range of the juvenile justice system, they may still be treated like an adult for the purposes of their criminal case under certain circumstances. For example, a 13-year-old accused of assault may not be tried as an adult, while a 17-year-old accused of homicide is much more likely to be. 

Additional Notable Differences Between Juvenile & Adult Criminal Cases 

There are many other ways that juvenile and adult criminal cases are different from one another. For example:

  • Charges aren’t called complaints against the defendant, they’re called petitions. 
  • If a juvenile defendant is found guilty, they are not convicted, they are adjudicated. 
  • Juveniles are not sentenced, but instead go through a process known as disposition. 

Some other differences to be aware of are that juveniles do not have the benefit of a trial by jury. Instead, the judge assigned to hear the case reviews the evidence and makes a decision on what should happen to the child themselves. That said, they are also more likely to have robust rehabilitation options instead of facing harsh punishment if adjudicated. 

During the hearing, the courtroom will be closed to the public unlike with adult criminal cases to protect the identity of the child. While investigatory agencies, news stations, and other entities may release the name of an adult defendant, they may not do so for a juvenile. 

How to Get Legal Assistance After Your Child Was Arrested 

The Massachusetts criminal system can be tough on juveniles, making it crucial to act quickly after learning of your child’s charges to secure adequate legal representation. Attorney Thomas Kokonowski can help you advocate for your child against life-altering criminal charges. Call now for an initial consultation at 413-585-9200 (Northampton), 413-549-0022 (Amherst), or 413-737-9700 (Springfield).