A juvenile can be charged with simple assault for injuring another person, threatening to or attempting to injure another person or even making another person afraid. In this day and age, fights, threats, and roughhousing that were once considered a part of growing up can lead to serious criminal charges.
While the definition of the crime of simple assault varies from state to state, it can include:
- causing injury to another person
- attempting to cause injury to another person
- threatening (verbally or nonverbally) another person, and
- putting another person in fear of imminent harm.
The injury to the victim does not need to be serious and, in fact, serious injury can result in a felony charge and severe punishment. Depending on the state, in order for the crime of assault to have occurred, there may not need to be any injury to or even physical contact with the victim.
For example, depending on which state you are in, hitting someone could lead to a juvenile assault charge, but so could threatening to hit someone. Even saying nothing, but merely looking at someone in a mean way could be considered simple assault, depending on the circumstances.
Punishment for Juvenile Simple Assault
Simple assault is usually a misdemeanor. Depending on the state, consequences for a juvenile charged with simple assault could include:
- jail time (to be served in a juvenile facility or, in rare cases, an adult institution)
- community service
- restitution (repayment) to the victim for medical bills, lost wages, or other expenses)
- anger management classes
- alcohol or substance abuse treatment, and
Children under the age of 18 who are charged with crimes are usually not dealt with in the adult criminal justice system, but are instead handled through a special juvenile justice system. In the juvenile justice system, proceedings are often informal, and the case may be disposed of without official charges ever being filed. The court’s ultimate decision or sentence focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment and is often tailored to the particular juvenile. Usually, but not always, children are treated more leniently in the juvenile justice system than they would be if they were "sent up" to adult court.
Constitutional rights for juveniles
Juveniles do not have the same constitutional rights as adults. While a juvenile usually has a right to an attorney, in many states there is no right to a jury trial, and proceedings occur before a judge. While adults cannot be convicted of a crime unless the judge or jury finds the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, this standard applies only to juveniles who are facing incarceration. The juvenile court may impose other consequences on a juvenile after finding it more likely than not that the juvenile committed assault.
Being prosecuted as an adult
In many states, the prosecutor or judge may decide to treat a juvenile as an adult, particularly if the charge is serious or if the child has previously been convicted of a crime. Sometimes, children over a certain age (often 16) who are charged with serious crimes (usually felonies) may be treated as an adult. If prosecuted as an adult, the juvenile is transferred out of the juvenile justice system and into the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile then has the same constitutional rights as an adult, but may be also be punished as an adult, including incarceration in an adult jail or prison.
In most cases, it is unlikely that a child charged with a misdemeanor first offense such as simple assault would be transferred to the adult criminal justice system.
Obtaining Legal Assistance
A conviction for juvenile simple assault can have serious consequences, even if no formal charges are brought. If you or your child stand accused of simple assault, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will understand the laws in your state and can tell you how your case is likely to be treated in court based on the facts and the approach of the assigned prosecutor and judge.
An attorney can help you understand the juvenile justice system and obtain the best outcome for you or your child. Sometimes in juvenile court, the best option is to proceed informally without being represented by an attorney, but you should at least speak with an attorney before making that decision.