First, Mississippi law defines a “juvenile,” “child,” or “youth” as a person who has not reached his or her eighteenth birthday, however a person who is married or is on active duty in the armed services before reaching eighteen is considered an adult. Miss. Code Ann § 43-21-105(d). A “delinquent act” is an act which would be defined as a crime if committed by an adult, including escape from detention, violations of the Uniform Controlled Sustances Law, and violent behavior.
Mississippi law confers “exclusive, original jurisdiction” in the youth court system over children who commit delinquent acts, except in the following circumstances:
- any act that could be punished by death or life in prison under state or federal law;
- any act attempted or committed with a deadly concealed weapon, or a shotgun or rifle, if the act would be a felony if committed by an adult;
- any act committed by a child on or after their seventeenth birthday that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
So any child under the age of eighteen that gets into trouble will probably start out in Mississippi’s youth court system, which is a separate court system with the goal of ensuring that each child “become[s] a responsible, accountable and productive citizen, and that each such child shall receive such care, guidance and control, preferably in [the] child’s own home as is conducive toward that end and is in the state’s and the child’s best interest.” Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-103.
In youth court, no child who has not reached their thirteenth birthday will be held criminally responsible for any act, however the parents may be held liable in civil court. And no child under age eighteen will be held criminally responsible for any act designated as a delinquent act, unless it is decided that the case should be transferred to an adult court.
In order to transfer a juvenile’s case away from the youth court for the juvenile to be tried as an adult, the youth court prosecutor, or the youth court itself, can make a motion to transfer, and a hearing must be held. If you find yourself in this situation with one of your children, you absolutely need a lawyer. In fact, the statute requires it. The court will then decide: (1) if there is probable cause to believe that the child committed the alleged offense, and (2) if, by clear and convincing evidence, that there are no reasonable prospects of rehabilitation within the juvenile justice system. There are a number of factors the court will consider in determining whether there are “reasonable prospects of rehabiliation (in other words, whether the case should stay in the juvenile system, or be transferred to another court for the child to be tried as an adult). These factors include:
- Whether or not the alleged offense constituted a substantial danger to the public;
- The seriousness of the alleged offense;
- Whether or not the transfer is required to protect the community;
- Whether or not the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated or willful manner;
- Whether the alleged offense was against persons or against property, greater weight being given to the offense against persons, especially if personal injury resulted;
- The sophistication, maturity and educational background of the child;
- The child’s home situation, emotional condition and life-style;
- The history of the child, including experience with the juvenile justice system, other courts, probation, commitments to juvenile institutions or other placements;
- Whether or not the child can be retained in the juvenile justice system long enough for effective treatment or rehabilitation;
- The dispositional resources available to the juvenile justice system;
- Dispositional resources available to the adult correctional system for the child if treated as an adult;
- Whether the alleged offense was committed on school property, public or private, or at any school-sponsored event, and constituted a substantial danger to other students;
- Any other factors deemed relevant by the youth court.
Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-157(5).
In the vast majority of cases, if your child gets into trouble, youth court is the best solution, and you will need an attorney to present these factors in the light most favorable to your son or daughter. An attorney will be appointed for you if you meet the financial criteria for assistance, otherwise you will need to hire one. This firm aggressive defends the rights of juveniles at all stages of the process. Give Clarence a call for a free review of your case.