For decades, a 17-year-old accused of a crime in Michigan was always treated as an adult offender rather than as a juvenile. Starting in October of 2021, that will no longer be the case. A new law that raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18 was signed by Michigan’s governor, meaning 17-year-olds won’t be automatically viewed as adults by the criminal justice system.

While the move was lauded by supporters, grabbing headlines across the state, it’s important to remember: a 17-year-old, just like any other juvenile, could still end up facing adult charges.

Charging a juvenile as an adult

Under the new age of criminal responsibility law, prosecutors would still be able to request a teenager face adult charges for certain, egregious allegations. In order for this to happen, usually the prosecutor must petition the court for a hearing, and demonstrate it is in the best interests of both the public and juvenile to bring adult charges.

The courts weigh a few factors, including:

  • How serious the allegations are, including whether there were aggravating factors
  • The juvenile’s prior delinquency record
  • How involved the juvenile was in the alleged crime
  • Whether the juvenile justice system would result in an adequate punishment
  • The availability of dispositional options

Consequences of adult charges

If the petition is approved, the juvenile will go through the criminal justice system just as any adult would, including the same processes and potential penalties.

Even juvenile charges can have consequences long into the future. A conviction on an adult charge, despite not yet being 18, can be even more devastating, affecting opportunities for housing, jobs and more. That’s why it can be important to bring in legal defense as soon as possible if a juvenile is charged with a crime.

There are ways to minimize the potential negative impact on an individual’s life, giving them a chance to rehabilitate themselves rather than face onerous punishment. The sooner that work can begin, the better.