Parents whose children have been arrested or accused of committing a heinous crime might wonder, “Can a minor be charged with a felony?” A minor aged 14 years or older but below 18 years may face felony charges in Minnesota. Minors below 14 years of age lack the capacity to choose to commit a crime according to the state’s statutes and cannot, therefore, face felony charges.
Juvenile courts hear cases ranging from petty misdemeanors to felony-level crimes. Robbery, weapon offenses, sex crimes, and breaking into a building with intent to commit a crime are some examples of felony-level crimes committed by minors. Aside from fines and prison time, felony charges can have serious and life-long repercussions on a minor. So, the best practice when your child is facing felony charges is to work closely with a seasoned juvenile defense lawyer.
When Can Juveniles Face Felony Charges in Minnesota?
Minors aged 14 years or older may face felony charges if the offense in question is subject to prosecution based on the laws and court protocols related to adult criminal offenses. They may also get charged with a felony if the alleged crime qualifies for an extended jurisdiction juvenile (EJJ) designation.
A minor aged 16 or more may face felony-level charges if he or she has a previous felony charge certification or conviction on his or her record.
A minor accused of committing first-degree murder after turning 16 years can also face felony charges. This rule is not, however, applicable to juveniles accused of first-degree attempted murder after turning 16 years.
How Minnesota Handles Minors in Criminal Cases
Minnesota considers crimes allegedly committed by someone under 18 years old a juvenile delinquency matter. It has special statutes and court procedures for handling juvenile offenders that are different from those of adult criminal offenses.
Juvenile delinquency cases are generally inaccessible to the public, except for serious criminal offenses involving minors of more than 16 years of age. Programs that provide juveniles with a secure, healthy, and conducive environment for rehabilitation are also available.
The Court Process in Juvenile Delinquency Cases
Petition or Citation Filing
The prosecution brings a petition or citation in District Court outlining the alleged violation.
Summoning the Minor and Parents/Guardians
Juvenile delinquency cases start with the alleged minor offender and the parent(s) or guardian(s) receiving a summons. The summons specifies the date and time they should appear in court to answer the accusations in the Petition or Citation. Police officers must present the minor to court within 36 hours from the arrest day if they have the child in a juvenile jail.
Fingerprinting Is Compulsory for Felony Charges
The minor must be fingerprinted before the arraignment if the juvenile is facing felony charges. The fingerprinting exercise is necessary for each new felony case, regardless of whether the minor’s fingerprints taken during previous cases are available.
Arraignment and Attorney Retention
The parent or guardian may request a court-appointed attorney before the arraignment if the offense level qualifies for such an attorney. Petty misdemeanor charges are ineligible for court-appointed attorneys. Parents or guardians of a juvenile facing misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony charges can apply for court-appointed counsel before the arraignment.
The judge will assess the application to establish eligibility. Parents whose children are ineligible for a court-appointed lawyer may pay for the services of a private lawyer out of their pocket.
Entering a Delinquency Finding
The judge may enter a delinquency finding, and the minor may get adjudicated as “delinquent” if the prosecutor proves the charge or citation in court.
Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile (EJJ)
EJJ may also be a component of juvenile criminal cases. It involves issuing a minor with a stayed adult sentence until the minor reaches 21 years. The minor is then put on an extended probation.
Understanding the Threshold for Felony Charges
In Minnesota, a felony is a more serious criminal offense carrying jail or prison time of a year or more. The state’s sentencing guidelines outline mandatory prison sentences for various felony-level crimes. These crimes include theft, strangulation, murder, drug crimes, terrorist threats, criminal sexual conduct, and aggravated assault.
Some criminal offenses, including aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, and murder, attract felony charges because of their seriousness. Other offenses, however, get charged as felonies if the defendant has past convictions for similar offenses.
Some offenses get classified as felonies based on their specific details. Theft of property worth at least $1,000, for instance, is deemed a felony.
Apart from fines and prison sentences, a felony conviction can expose a minor to long-term collateral consequences. A conviction can, for instance, keep a minor from qualifying for a student loan when the minor wants to go to college. It can also prevent the minor from voting or possessing a firearm in the future.
What Are the Unique Considerations of Felony Charges for Minors?
Minnesota law classifies felonies as the most serious crimes. A conviction can carry significant consequences, ranging from at least one year in prison and difficulty securing employment to loss of civil rights and ineligibility for student loans. Procedures for prosecuting felonies involving adults vary significantly from those of minors who commit felony-level offenses.
How Youthful Transgressions Can Turn into Felony Charges
The following factors determine when youthful transgressions can turn into felony charges in Minnesota:
- Age of the Minor: A minor of 14 years or more may face felony charges if the minor commits a crime classified as a felony under the state criminal laws.
- Eligibility for EJJ Designation: A minor may get charged with a felony if the offense is eligible for EJJ designation.
- Nature and Severity of the Violation: Serious crimes and those involving acts of violence attract felony charges. Some examples of such crimes are murder, robbery, and the sale or distribution of large amounts of controlled substances.
- Juvenile’s Previous Delinquency Records: A past felony charge or conviction of the same offense may be a valid ground for charging a minor with a felony.
- Juvenile’s Current Intellectual and Psychological Capacity: A 14-year-old juvenile offender could have the intellectual and psychological maturity of a 10-year-old. Another one aged 14 years could be capable of thinking and operating as an adult. A licensed psychiatrist or psychologist will assess the child and testify regarding the minor’s intellectual and psychological development. A judge will use that testimony to determine whether felony charges are appropriate for the juvenile offender.
At What Age Can a Child Be Charged as an Adult?
In Minnesota, a child can be charged as an adult if the child is at least 14 years old. Minors aged between 16 and 17 are, however, the most commonly charged as adults.
There is no clear definition for when a juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult. Certain factors must be considered before making this decision. A judge is responsible for evaluating those factors and determining if a juvenile qualifies to be tried as an adult.
The prosecutors must initiate the adult certification process if they intend to prosecute a juvenile as an adult. They must also convince the judge with strong evidence and arguments that trying the teen in an adult court guarantees public safety.
The minor’s age, the seriousness of the alleged offense, and delinquency or criminal record are important considerations during the adult certification process. Other considerations include whether the alleged juvenile offender used a weapon (or weapons) in committing the crime, and whether the juvenile was the mastermind in the alleged violation.
Robbery, criminal sexual conduct, burglary, and aggravated assault are serious crimes that can lead to juvenile offenders getting tried as adults.
When to Get a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hire a criminal defense lawyer as soon as your teen gets arrested or you discover that your teen is under investigation for a crime. The right juvenile defense lawyer can help you in the following ways:
Determining the Best Course of Action for Your Child
A juvenile defense attorney can assess the specifics of your minor’s case and advise on the next steps. The attorney may aggressively defend your teen in court and get the charges dismissed. The attorney may also negotiate a favorable plea deal with the prosecution team.
The plea deal may involve house arrest, community services, and months of probation in exchange for a guilty plea. Your attorney may also fight for a reduced sentence if the judge has already sentenced your child.
Legal Support to Help in Navigating the Complexities of Felony Cases
The attorney will leverage his or her years of training, legal knowledge, and courtroom experience to walk you and your teen through the juvenile criminal justice process. The attorney will discuss every step of the justice process with you and your teen and ensure you understand all the available options. He or she will provide you with the legal support necessary to build a robust defense for your child.
Ensuring Your Rights and Interests Are Protected
Limited or lack of understanding of your rights can expose you and your teen to violations by law enforcement officers or the justice system. A juvenile felony lawyer will explain your legal rights and defend you aggressively against any violations. The lawyer will put your best interests ahead of everything and ensure you make the right decisions about your child’s case.
Hastening the Process
Juvenile delinquency cases that do not involve a defense lawyer can remain unresolved for months or even years. So, working with a lawyer with proven experience defending juvenile offenders can help hasten the judicial process. That way, your teen does not have to remain incarcerated or with an unresolved criminal case for an unnecessarily long time.
Avoiding or Minimizing the Long-Term Impacts of Felony Charges
A conviction of felony charges can leave a minor with serious, long-term consequences. The teen may get incarcerated in a youth rehabilitation center. Besides huge fines, paying court-ordered therapy and restitution to the complainant may be part of a sentence for a minor convicted of a felony-level offense.
These financial penalties may leave the family of a convicted teen with a huge debt. The minor may also get into adult life with a hefty debt, which can be stressful.
A juvenile felony conviction may also result in hidden consequences. The convicted teen and the family may, for instance, get removed from public housing. Other felony conviction effects include losing eligibility for military service, suspension or revocation of a youth’s driver’s license, and change in immigration status.
Your lawyer can build a strong defense to avoid the long-term consequences of a juvenile conviction. The lawyer can also negotiate persistently with the prosecution and the judge to reduce the sentence. He or she can also advise you on reducing the long-term effects of felony charges and convictions. One way of doing that is filing an expungement request with the court.
Do Felonies Committed as a Minor Go Away?
Felonies committed as a child do not disappear when you turn 18 years old. Instead, you must file a request for expungement with the court that heard your case.
Juvenile felony charges or convictions may be eligible for expungement if they meet any of the following conditions:
- Your felony charges were dropped or dismissed;
- The court did not convict or find you guilty of the alleged violation
- You did not enter a guilty plea to the felony charges.
A judge can expunge your records at his or her discretion, even if a court entered a guilty verdict for a felony-level offense in its records. An expungement affects state records only. It does not impact records held by federal courts and other federal agencies. You stand a better chance of having your record sealed if you work with a lawyer familiar with Minnesota expungement laws for juvenile criminal records.