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Juveniles Charged as Adults for Criminal Sexual Conduct

Juveniles in the Adult Court System

Michigan criminal sexual conduct charges have so many peculiarities that this one slice of the larger pie could easily occupy volumes all on its own. Our Michigan criminal sexual conduct attorney often hears concerns about juveniles charged with criminal sexual conduct (CSC), the most common question being:

“My child is being accused of criminal sexual conduct. They would have been 14 years old at the time of the alleged incident but are 17 years old now. Can a juvenile be charged, tried, and convicted as an adult for criminal sexual conduct in Michigan?“

Before we answer that question, you must understand that Michigan’s CSC laws combined with juvenile justice laws are very complex. Continue reading to learn helpful information, or pick up the phone and call Prain Law, PLLC at (248) 731-4543 right now to speak with a top Michigan criminal sexual conduct lawyer to get case-specific answers!

Circumstances in Which Juveniles Can be Tried as Adults

Right now, juveniles can be charged, tried, and convicted as adults if they are no older than 17, but this law will be amended to age 18 in October 2021.

Adults who are charged with crimes begin their case in the local district court where the alleged offense supposedly took place. If an adult is charged with a felony and they are “bound over“ after preliminary examination, their case will continue in the county circuit court until completion.

For juveniles, the county family court, rather than the circuit court, has original jurisdiction over all juvenile cases. Juvenile criminal cases, known as juvenile delinquency proceedings, are civil rather than criminal in nature. They typically do not result in adult criminal convictions, but rather juvenile adjudications, which are generally more lenient. There are few, if any, reasons why an accused juvenile would prefer treatment as an adult rather than as a juvenile in a delinquency case.

However, there are several ways in which a juvenile can be either charged, tried, and/or convicted and sentenced as an adult, in whole or in part, meaning some stages of the proceeding involve juvenile-like treatment, while others involve adult-like treatment.

There are two situations in which juveniles can be treated as adults:

  1. Waiver cases: The family court waives its regular juvenile jurisdiction to the adult court or circuit court.
  2. Designated cases: The case remains in family court, but the case proceeds with adult-like procedures and penalties to some extent at all or some stages.

The main difference is which court (family or circuit) the case goes to.

WAIVER CASES

Automatic Waiver Cases: A juvenile 14 years of age or older is charged with one of several very serious charges, known as a specified juvenile violation. There are only a limited number of specified juvenile violations, and this is important to know, because first-degree criminal sexual conduct, is one of them.

When a juvenile 14 or older is charged with a specified juvenile violation such as first-degree CSC, the prosecutor has two choices:

  1. They can file the case as an "automatic designation" case in the family court (see below for an explanation of "automatic designation" cases).
  2. They can file the case in the local district court, where they are arraigned and have a bond set like in adult cases. Thereafter, if the charge is "bound over" after a preliminary exam, it goes to the county circuit court for trial and sentencing like an adult.

If the juvenile is convicted of first-degree CSC, Michigan law gives the judge no choice but to sentence them as an adult. For other degrees of CSC, for example, if the juvenile is only convicted of a lesser offense, the court may have the discretion to sentence as a juvenile or as an adult.

Traditional Waiver Cases: A juvenile is accused of committing any degree of criminal sexual conduct or other Michigan sex crimes charge that would be a felony if it were committed by an adult, and the prosecutor asks the family court to agree to transfer the case to a circuit court.

The case begins with the filing of a petition, citation or appearance ticket charging the juvenile in the juvenile division of the family court. However, within 14 days of the petition’s authorization, the prosecution files a motion requesting the family court to “waive“ its jurisdiction to the circuit court for trial and sentencing.

When a prosecutor makes the motion, the juvenile division of the family court conducts a two-phase hearing:

  1. The first phase is called the probable cause hearing, where the court hears testimony and other evidence. The prosecutor tries to demonstrate probable cause, a low burden of proof, that the juvenile committed an offense that would be a felony had it been committed by an adult. At this hearing, the Michigan Rules of Evidence apply, which is very similar to a preliminary examination in an adult CSC case.
  1. The second phase of the hearing, assuming probable cause was found in the first phase, is called the best interest hearing, which occurs within 28 days after the first phase (although they may be held at the same time).

During the best interest hearing, the court looks at a list of criteria to determine whether, by a preponderance of the evidence, it’s in the juvenile’s and public’s best to waive jurisdiction to the adult court (circuit court) for trial and potential sentencing.

If the prosecutor meets their burdens of proof at both phases of the hearing, the case is transferred to the county circuit court, where the juvenile is tried in the same fashion as an adult, and if found guilty, can be incarcerated as an adult.

If the juvenile is convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in a traditional waiver case, the court must sentence the juvenile as an adult. For other (lesser) degrees of CSC, the court has the discretion to sentence as a juvenile (juvenile probation, juvenile detention, etc.) or as an adult. The court conducts a hearing where it considers several criteria to decide whether it is in the best interest of the public to sentence the juvenile as an adult.

DESIGNATED CASES

Automatic Designation Cases (Prosecutor Designated Cases): Unlike waiver cases discussed above, in a designated case, the prosecutor asks for the case to remain in the family court, but use the same trial and sentencing procedures as adult cases rather than the “softer“ juvenile provisions.

In automatic designation cases, the prosecutor files the petition (the document initiating the case) in family court but alleges in that petition that the juvenile has committed a specified juvenile violation such as first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Because of its seriousness, assuming the prosecutor meets their burden of proof, the family court must automatically agree to conduct a trial and possible sentencing in family court using the same procedures as an adult, including a 12-person jury.

Even if the prosecutor does not designate the case for adult procedures at first, they may do so during the preliminary hearing (or after if the juvenile waives the preliminary hearing) by asking the court for permission to file an amended petition.

Since automatic designation cases involve very serious specified juvenile violations, unlike traditional waiver cases (above), there is a probable cause hearing to determine if there is probable cause to believe the juvenile committed the offense. Assuming there is probable cause for the case to go forward, there is no second phase regarding best interests. This is because the case stays in family court and it is deemed a specified juvenile violation, meaning the court has no choice but to comply with the prosecutor's intent to use adult procedures.

Discretionary Designation Cases (Court Designated Cases): A juvenile is charged with either a felony or misdemeanor, other than a specified juvenile violation, where the prosecutor files an initial petition that requests for the juvenile to go through adult procedures (as explained above). Again, because this is a designation case and not a waiver case, the case stays in family court but if the court agrees with the prosecutor, adult procedures take place.

When the prosecutor makes this request, after arraignment, the court holds a designation hearing to decide whether to agree with the prosecutor and use adult procedures. Similar to the second phase of a traditional waiver case, the judge hears evidence and looks at a list of criteria to determine whether the prosecution has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the best interests of the juvenile and the public would be best served by designating the case for adult procedures.

If the court agrees with the prosecutor and designates the felony case for adult treatment, then the court holds a preliminary hearing, similar to an adult preliminary exam, to determine whether there is probable cause for the case to go forward or not. If it goes forward, adult procedures are used in family court. If the charge is a misdemeanor, then there is no preliminary hearing, but the case continues in a family court with adult procedures.

If the juvenile is convicted, the court will have the discretion to sentence as a juvenile, adult, or some blend of the two (a blended sentence), assuming there is no requirement that the juvenile is sentenced as an adult. However, in a CSC case, that would be unlikely since the only criminal sexual conduct charge that requires adult sentencing is first-degree criminal sexual conduct. In that case, the prosecution can make that happen at their discretion by filing it as one of the above 3 case types.

Questions? Contact Us for Answers!

We hope this information helped answer the question: "Can a juvenile be charged as an adult for criminal sexual conduct?" However, we realize this is an extremely complicated facet of the Michigan criminal sexual conduct laws, and you probably have more questions than answers at this point.

Don't worry. That's what we're here for.

Detroit criminal sexual conduct attorney Brian J. Prain of Prain Law, PLLC specifically concentrates his practice on successfully defending those charged with criminal sexual conduct in Michigan. If you or a loved one are accused of CSC in Michigan, whether that person is a juvenile or an adult, contact Prain Law, PLLC at (248) 731-4543.

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Prain Law, PLLC is focused only on the types charges featured on our website. This helps us deliver the decisive, effective advocacy for which our clients know us. We only serve individuals currently under investigation or who have a current case pending in court. Our firm does not represent injury victims, defendants who have already taken a plea or have been sentenced, or those seeking to expunge a criminal record. We do not respond to anyone who is not involved in a pending investigation or who has a court case for a type of charge we do not handle, but we wish you the very best of luck.