Offenders who are 18 years old or older are prosecuted in adult courts. However, there are specific rules for children who are not 18 years old at the time when they commit a crime who are tried in adult criminal courts and sometimes in juvenile courts.
The system of juvenile courts is designed specifically to prosecute children. It focuses on rehabilitation and future reintegration. At the same time, the goal of the criminal justice system is punishment and deterrence of future crimes. That principle arises from the belief that instead of being “miniature adults”, children and adolescents possess moral and cognitive capabilities that are not quite fully developed. In Iowa, juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over children who are less than 14 years of age when they commit an offense. There are some exceptions for kids between 14 and 18 years of age.
Firstly, the Iowa Code excludes from the jurisdiction of juvenile courts specific offenses committed by kids between 16 and 18 years of age. The State prosecutes those offenses in adult criminal courts. There are three groups of those offenses:
Forcible felonies: Includes crimes of felonious child endangerment, assault, murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, robbery, arson in the first degree, or burglary in the first degree with several exceptions
Drug-related crimes: Includes crimes of manufacturing, delivering or possessing controlled substances committed by a person in the immediate possession or control of a firearm or an offensive weapon
Weapon-related crimes: Includes weapons violations, which are committed by criminal street gang members, or weapons violations, which constitute felonies
Secondly, juvenile courts have the discretion to transfer cases to adult courts. If a child is fourteen years of age or older, the county attorney may file a motion requesting the court to waive its jurisdiction over the case. The child can also file this motion himself or through his attorney. There are different trial strategies for doing that. In those cases, the court holds a hearing to determine whether it should waive its jurisdiction and transfer the case to the adult court.
Finally, there is a so-called “reverse waiver.” If a child who is charged with an offense that the law specifically excludes from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court is prosecuted in the adult court, this case can still be transferred to the juvenile court.
As you can see, the question of jurisdiction of juvenile courts is pretty complex. If your child was charged with a crime, you need an experienced attorney who will represent you in the early stages of your case. Do not hesitate to call us at Stowers and Sarcone Law Firm at 515.224.7446. Our experienced attorneys provide dedicated and experienced representation in all kind of cases in juvenile courts.