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Can Juveniles Be Sent to Adult Court in Washington State?

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When a child is arrested for a crime, he or she is typically tried in juvenile court, not adult criminal court. Juvenile court provides a specialized system to hear cases involving children and levy appropriate penalties. In some cases, however, a child may be tried as an adult instead of a minor in Washington state. If your child is sent to adult court after being accused of a crime, it is important to speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

When Are Juveniles Tried As Adults?

After a child is arrested, the police officers in charge of his or her case send a file to a prosecutor. It is the prosecutor’s responsibility to determine how to proceed with the child’s case. He or she may choose to drop the charges or recommend an alternative sentencing program, such as diversion. The prosecutor may choose to proceed with the case and file charges in juvenile court.

In certain circumstances, the prosecutor may request a decline hearing or a hearing where a judge will decide whether to transfer the case to adult criminal prosecution. According to Washington RCW 13.40.110, a prosecutor may recommend a decline hearing if one of the following criteria are met.

  • The defendant is at least 15 years or older and is being charged with a serious violent offense.
  • The defendant is at least 14 years or younger and is facing charges for murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree.
  • The defendant is any age and is facing charges for custodial assault while he or she is serving a minimum juvenile sentence until he or she turns 21.

There are some cases where Washington juvenile courts automatically transfer jurisdiction to adult criminal courts. For example, if the child was previously transferred to adult court on another charge, he or she is no longer considered a juvenile unless he or she was acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge during the initial case.

How Does Senate Bill 6160 Impact Juvenile Charges?

Washington used to automatically waive juvenile jurisdiction in cases involving children who were 16 and 17 years old. Under previous laws, these children would be transferred to adult court if they committed a serious violent offense as defined by Washington law, such as first-degree robbery or offenses involving firearms. In March 2018, however, the state passed a law that changes these rules.

Senate Bill 6160 removes offenses that make juveniles automatically eligible for adult prosecution, requiring a hearing before jurisdiction is transferred. Most juveniles will remain in the juvenile justice system unless a judge recommends them to be tried as adults. This law will limit the number of children who face adult prosecution, which may improve recidivism rates and provide juvenile offenders with the support they deserve.

Additionally, juveniles charged with serious crimes can remain in jail up to their 25th birthday. Previously, juvenile jurisdiction in Washington state ended at age 21. This will prevent young people from automatically being transferred to adult prisons, which can raise recidivism rates and limit access to juvenile rehabilitative services.

Is Your Child Facing Criminal Charges?

While Senate Bill 6160 limits the number of juveniles who are automatically sent to adult courts, it is still possible for a child to be tried as an adult. In these situations, it is important to hire a Washington defense attorney who can defend your child’s best interests and fight for the best possible outcome. As soon as possible following your child’s arrest, speak to an attorney to discuss your legal options.

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