What is the difference between a juvenile and an adult according to the law?

A juvenile is any young person who is not an adult. Each state decides the age of juveniles. In South Dakota, a juvenile is anyone under the age of 18.

Juveniles have a court system that has been set up to handle only juvenile cases. This system is not the same as an adult court system. Juveniles are treated differently than adults by the court.

A Juvenile:

  • Is always under 18 years of age.
  • Can be referred for truancy from school, failure to obey parents, and running away from home. This is call a “Child in Need of Supervision” (CHINS).
  • Commits an illegal act or offense which would be a crime if committed by an adult.
  • Has a hearing which must be closed to the public.
  • DOES NOT have the right to a jury trial.
  • Will have his/her behavior at school and home considered by the judge before sentencing (disposition).
  • Can be placed in the state training school usually for six months to two years.
  • Is considered to be “adjudicated” once he/she is found to be guilty of an act or offense.

An Adult:

  • Is usually over 18 years of age.
  • Commits an illegal act called a crime.
  • Has a trial which must be open to the public.
  • DOES have the right to a jury trial.
  • Will have the judge consider any crimes committed and the good behavior of the defendant. However, the sentence will depend mainly on the type of crime committed.
  • Can be sentenced from probation up to life in prison depending on the type of crime committed.
  • Will usually have a public criminal record if convicted of a crime.


Status offenses are those that relate directly to the individual just because of his/her age. Generally, status offenses are not illegal acts when committed by adults. Common status offenses include the following:

  • CURFEW: Many municipal ordinances require that children under a certain age be off the streets and at home at certain times. In Rapid City, the curfew for youth under the age of 16 is 10:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
  • TRUANCY: South Dakota sate law mandates that children under the age of 18 (effective July 1, 2009) must attend school.
  • SMOKING: South Dakota state law prohibits the possession, consumption, purchase, or attempt to purchase tobacco products by persons under age 18.
  • DRINKING: The legal age to possess, purchase, or drink alcoholic beverages is 21.

Students who are adjudicated can receive probation, diversion, and/or in some cases be sent to the Department of Corrections. The Juvenile Corrections System consists of the various juvenile programs in Custer known as the State Treatment and Rehabilitation (STAR) Academy, the West Farm program near Sioux Falls, contractual foster care and juvenile aftercare services.


Non-status offenses are offenses that would be crimes if committed by an adult. Non-status offenses include misdemeanor and felony crimes committed by anyone regardless of age.

Under what circumstances can juveniles be tried as though they were adults?

In any case of a delinquent child, the Court can, at its discretion after the transfer hearing permit that child to face charges in adult court. A number of factors may be considered by the court in determining whether a child should be transferred. Some examples include the following:

  • The child has committed a serious crime.
  • The crime was aggressive, violent, premeditated or willful.
  • The crime was against a police officer.
  • The child committed the crime with adult accomplices.
  • The child has a history of committing crimes.
  • The need for stiffer penalties than provided for in juvenile court.