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.