Can I be arrested for a crime I committed as a juvenile after I've become an adult?

If you are arrested as an adult for an offense you committed when you were a juvenile, the court venue and overall procedural path the case takes will depend on the severity of the alleged crime, your age at the time of the alleged crime, and your current age.

Do Juvenile Courts Handle Only Juvenile Cases?

In most states, juvenile courts have jurisdiction only over delinquent acts, meaning offenses committed by an individual under 18 that, if committed by an adult, would be considered crimes. If a juvenile under 18 years of age is convicted of a delinquent act and placed under court supervision, but is not rehabilitated by the age of 18, the court's jurisdiction continues until the individual’s 21st birthday.

Most states do not, however, give juvenile courts jurisdiction over serious offenses, such as rape and armed robbery, when alleged against juveniles over 15 or 16. Thus, if the individual is 17, these severe offenses are not deemed to be delinquent acts, but are instead filed in a regular criminal court as a crime committed by an adult. This severe crime exception to the general rule of delinquent acts being handled in juvenile courts is what is referred to as a juvenile being “tried as an adult.” The age limitations for these severe crime exceptions can differ from state to state.

How These Cases Are Treated

If you are currently an adult but have been arrested for a crime you allegedly committed when you were a juvenile, various possibilities exist for how your case might be handled. Much depends on state law and the severity of the alleged act. In most states, for example, if you were 17 when you allegedly committed murder, your case will automatically go to adult court even though you were a minor at the time, due to the aforementioned exception for severe crimes.

However, if you committed a non-serious offense at the age of 16 or younger, and are arrested after reaching 18, your case will most likely go through juvenile court as long as you are not older than 21. However, if you have been arrested at the age of 22 or above, most juvenile courts would lack jurisdiction over the case, no matter what the alleged crime was or how old you were at the time.

But you should also note that if you are over 21 and are arrested for a crime you allegedly committed as a minor, there could be a statute of limitations issue. Depending on the type of crime and how long ago the alleged crime occurred, you might even be able to have the case dismissed because the statute of limitations for filing has expired. You can discuss the statute of limitations issue as well as others with a criminal defense lawyer who has experience with juvenile cases.