When a minor is arrested on suspicion of a crime in Michigan, the default rule is for his or her case to go through juvenile court. However, prosecutors have the power to try to prosecute juveniles as adults, which can have dramatic implications for the potential punishment they could face.
Trying juveniles as adults is frequently controversial, especially when the defendant is years away from turning 18. In a recent case discussed in The Detroit News, a Michigan 13-year-old has been ruled competent to stand trial as an adult for a fatal stabbing that occurred when the defendant was 12.
State law sets out several factors for the court to consider when determining whether a minor could be tried as an adult, including:
- The seriousness of the alleged offense, including whether a weapon was allegedly used and the impact on the victim
- The juvenile's delinquency record, if any
- How culpable the juvenile allegedly was in the crime, that is, his or her level of participation
- Whether or not the available punishments in the juvenile justice system is adequate for the alleged crime
Following a hearing on the matter, the judge must weight these factors to determine whether trying the juvenile as an adult is in the best interests of the public and the juvenile. The statute directs judges to give greater weight to the first two factors listed above.
A juvenile who is convicted of a felony could be sent to prison with much older people. This is a scary prospect, but being charged as an adult still has legal rights, and must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.