The Difference in Juvenile and Adult Offending 


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Most of the crimes committed and prosecuted each year are perpetrated by juveniles, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. However, not all juveniles end up in prison, since most of them become law-abiding citizens when they become adults.

Juvenile offenders are defined as minors between the ages of 11 to 17. Minors below 10 years are considered children, and by law, cannot be held liable for any crime. The criminal justice system is responsible for determining whether a person can be charged as an adult or as a juvenile.

So what makes juvenile offending different from adult offending?

Different Categories of Juvenile Offenders

Depending on the nature of crimes committed, juveniles fall into the following categories:


According to Minn. Stat. 260B.007, a delinquent is someone below 18 years who commits a crime which, if committed by an adult, could result in jail time. Common delinquent behaviors include:

  • Truancy: Skipping school without a valid reason
  • Underage drinking or purchase of alcohol
  • Underage smoking/purchase of tobacco
  • Petty theft
  • Fighting
  • Trespassing


Juvenile Traffic Offenders

An adult court can handle juvenile traffic cases depending on the traffic offense and the age of the minor. Such offenses include petty traffic and DWI offenses.

Petty Offenders

Petty offenders are minors who engage in activities that, if committed by an adult, would not be a criminal offense. Such acts include:

  • Underage drinking, smoking, etc.
  • Joyriding
  • Vandalism such as graffiti
  • Trespassing

16-Year-Old Minors

According to section 609.055 of the Minnesota Statute, minors from 16 years above can be prosecuted in an adult court if they commit first-degree murder. 

Crimes Deemed Dangerous

Minors can be charged in adult courts if the crimes they have committed are deemed dangerous or if they are a repetitive offender as determined by the juvenile court.

What’s the Difference Between Adult and Juvenile Offending?

Juvenile offenses differ from adult offenses in the following ways:

  • Peer Influence: Juvenile offenders lack the mental competence to make rational decisions. According to research published in PubMed, at puberty, the areas of the brain that inhibit response, risks, rewards, and emotional regulation undergo rapid changes at puberty,  which renders teenagers incapable of keeping up with the arousal changes. These changes make them more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.

In addition, teenagers are more willing to engage in riskier behaviors than adults despite knowing the risks. In most cases, adults weigh both the benefits and risks involved before engaging in a particular activity. Seeking sensations from activities with no regard for the repercussions is not the only thing adolescents do; they also seek friends who are seeking thrills.

  • Minors as victims of crime: Victimization can lead to offending behavior in young people. Research shows that adolescents are more likely to be the victims of crimes than adults. People aged 15-24 are more likely to be assaulted than those in the older age groups. Also, they are more likely to be victims of sexual assault that later leads to delinquent behavior. One study showed that about a third of teens who were victims of homicide had been killed by teens, the implication being that most perpetrators of assault against young people are juveniles.
  • Mental illness: Among the many juveniles arrested each year for delinquent behavior, 65% of them are diagnosed with a mental illness. Although mental illness like schizophrenia is less prevalent in teenagers, most juvenile offenders suffer from other mental disorders that makes it difficult for them to cope with the daily pressures of life.
  • The nature of offenses by juveniles: Research shows that teenage offenders have a higher chance of getting arrested than adults for the following reasons: 

  1. Teenagers are less experienced than adults when it comes to committing crimes
  2. Most adolescents commit crimes in public spaces where there is a high chance of being seen and getting caught
  3. Juveniles commit crimes close to their homes and along with their peers

What’s the Difference Between the Juveniles and Adult Justice System?

The courts prosecute juvenile and adult offenders differently because the offenses are deemed guided by different thought processes. While the offenses may be similar, in the eyes of the law, adult offending carries more weight due to the social responsibility afforded to adults.

Here’s how the  juvenile and adult justice systems vary:

Adult Hearings Have Juries.

The justice system will do everything possible to protect minors, even those who have committed crimes. For this reason, courts don’t allow public hearings with juries for minors.

During juvenile criminal proceedings, a judge will hear the facts of the case and make a decision based on the provided evidence. 

A juvenile court is similar to an adult court, where the burden of proof is with the prosecution. What this means is that a prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s) they are accused of.

Juvenile Courts Have Disposition

An adult criminal court will have a hearing which will result in sentencing to determine the punishment for the offender. Offenders will face jail time and massive fines depending on the type of crime committed.

Juvenile courts focus more on rehabilitation. In juvenile courts, a disposition is held to determine the best course of action for the offender. The disposition options include:

  • Home supervision
  • Camp placement
  • Community service
  • Counseling
  • Informal probation

Adult Cases Focus More on Punishment

The goal of adult courts is to punish offenders for the crimes they have committed. Juvenile courts, on the other hand, aim to transform the minor’s behavior rather than punish them for it. It’s easier to change adolescent behaviors than adults with a lot of positive, intentional work.  However, in cases where juvenile offenses are more serious, the courts can consider punishment.

Juvenile Courts Focus on Delinquent Acts Rather Than Crimes

Most acts committed by minors are considered delinquent acts. For the acts to be considered crimes, they must be serious, such as felony charges or capital crimes.

Complaint and Petition

In juvenile courts, the case is brought against the defendant in a petition document, while in adult court, the document is considered a complaint.


Juveniles can apply to have their records expunged at any time. In adult courts, there are many restrictions that make it difficult for offenders to apply for expungement.

Mental Health Treatment for Delinquent Juveniles

Juvenile offending is different from adult offending in how they are prosecuted and sentenced in the U.S. The idea behind this is that minors can change if placed on the right track. However, this will take positive intervention to inform rehabilitation.

If you have a teenager at risk of offending, it’s best to know how the justice system will handle them. You should also know that you can help them seek the right path. Our experts at Steps for Change work with adolescents and young kids to treat and change bad behaviors. Reach out to us today for a one-on-one discussion.