Current Alabama law §12-15-204 requires teens that are 16 or 17 years old to be tried as adults in an Alabama court when they are facing serious Alabama criminal charges. Crimes qualifying a 16- or 17-year-old to be tried as an adult in Alabama include capital offenses, Class A felonies, and other violent crimes. According to an article in Florence, Alabama's The Times Daily, proposed legislation could change how juveniles charged with serious crimes are tried in Alabama. An Alabama state senator has pre-filed legislation that, if passed, would prevent juveniles over the age of 16 from automatically being placed into the adult criminal justice system.
For now, the proposed legislation still needs to go before the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee. The article notes that the chairman of the committee believes the legislation may have merit because he also believes factors like mental capacity should have an impact in how Alabama juvenile offenders are tried. The legislation's sponsor is quoted in the article as supporting the fact that there are indeed times where an Alabama juvenile offender should be tried as an adult, but said that his goal was to make sure that a person was responsible for the decision to do so instead of the process being automatic.
Criticisms of Proposed Legislation
There are opponents that believe this type of approach to the juvenile justice system is unnecessary. An editorial from The Decatur Daily accuses the legislation of failing to take into account the human element that is already part of the current juvenile justice system. While the editorial acknowledges that the goal behind the legislation may be to take into account factors like a history of abuse or mental capacity in how a juvenile is tried, the ability to do so already exists. The editorial points out that when a juvenile has been charged as an adult for a crime, defense attorneys are able to request that the court instead grant the defendant youthful offender status. This allows an investigation to begin into the potential existence of extenuating circumstances that might allow a court to grant youthful offender status where a juvenile is charged as a juvenile, and the results of this investigation are presented to a judge that has the discretion to grant a juvenile this status in court. In other words, critics believe the legislation is redundant and may actually force some courts to charge juvenile offenders as youthful offenders when they may, in fact, have been acting with the culpability of an adult while committing a crime. In this editorial's view, justice would be less served in such situations when mechanisms already appear to exist to allow rarer outlying exceptions to be tried as youthful offenders.
Legal Assistance for Alabama Juvenile Criminal Charges
There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens when Alabama juvenile offenders are charged with crimes. If an Alabama teen is facing Alabama criminal charges, it is extremely important to secure the assistance of an Alabama juvenile criminal defense attorney that is familiar with the Alabama juvenile justice system and dedicated to making sure juvenile defendants' rights are protected. The consequences of an Alabama juvenile conviction can be extremely serious, and they may follow an Alabama teen throughout the rest of their life. They may even mean that an Alabama juvenile could be tried as an adult. No matter the Alabama criminal charge a juvenile is facing, contact the Birmingham, Alabama criminal defense team at Eversole Law to schedule a consultation to discuss the circumstances surrounding those charges and the options that might be available to you.