Juvenile Simple Assault

The consequences of simple assault charges as a juvenile can be more serious than one might think.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated October 31, 2023

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.

Understanding Simple Assault 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 doesn't need to be serious. Bruising, pain without visible bruising, or scratches are often enough for criminal charges. In fact, some state laws don't require any injury to or even physical contact with the victim for simple assault charges.

For example, depending on which state you are in, shoving or 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.

(Causing serious injuries—such as significant bruising, lacerations, or prolonged pain—can result in a felony aggravated assault charge and severe punishment.)

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:

  • time in detention (to be served in a juvenile facility)
  • community service
  • probation
  • restitution (repayment to the victim for medical bills, lost wages, or other expenses)
  • anger management classes
  • alcohol or substance abuse treatment, and
  • fines.

Because the defendant here is a juvenile, the court can also order the parents to undergo counseling or require family counseling.

Going to Juvenile Delinquency Court

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 don't have the same constitutional rights as adults. While a juvenile usually has a right to an attorney, in many states there's 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 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.

Who Can See Juvenile Assault Records?

While state laws generally provide more protection for juvenile records than adult records, this doesn't mean all juvenile records are confidential. Often, the victim will have access to these records, and the court may be required to send certain records to the juvenile's school. Police, prosecutors, and judges can view juvenile records when making future charging and sentencing decisions in juvenile or adult court.

Juvenile records aren't usually available to the general public, so future employers and landlords won't likely have access to the records. However, if the juvenile applies for any type of "sensitive" position later in life (such as law enforcement, teaching, or healthcare), these employers will likely see the record.

Contrary to popular belief, juvenile records don't necessarily go away once the person turns 18. The juvenile should check out their state's laws to see if and when their record qualifies for expungement.

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 stands accused of simple assault, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, preferably one experienced in juvenile delinquency matters.

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 may want to consult with an attorney before making that decision.

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