If I’m a minor but not a citizen, will my case be handled in juvenile court?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you’re a minor but not a citizen, you will be handled as a juvenile. Non-citizens, illegal and legal immigrants, are entitled to the same due process rights as citizens. Further, you could potentially face the same punishments as a U.S. citizen, including certification as an adult offender. If you have been charged with a criminal offense as a juvenile, you should review your case with a juvenile law attorney and/or immigration attorney. A juvenile case may or may not affect your status in the United States.

Most states provide more protections for juvenile offenders than adult offenders. For example, an adult offender only has the right to have an attorney. The police are not required to automatically find an attorney, unless the defendant invokes that right. However, most states make it mandatory that a juvenile be arraigned and have a parent or guardian present before they are questioned. Because juveniles are not as educated on criminal laws, they are afforded more protections.

Juvenile Cases and Certification Laws

Your illegal status will not generally impact how your juvenile case is handled. Generally, the nature of your case will determine if you will be charged as a juvenile or an adult. Most prosecutors will not certify you as an adult for minor charges like truancy (i.e. being absent from school without permission) or possession of small amounts of marijuana. However, if you committed or participated in the commission of a murder or a high profile drug case, most prosecutors will at least consider certifying you as an adult.

Certification laws vary by state, but generally the state must show that the severity of the crime requires a more extensive punishment than provided for in juvenile law. If you are certified as an adult, the consequences on your status as an illegal citizen can be severe. Immigration laws have been under scrutiny lately for deporting young adults who were born in a foreign country, but raised in the U.S. and only speak English, back to a country where they do not understand the language. Even if you manage to not get deported, your juvenile history can impact your ability to become a naturalized citizen.

Juvenile System Protections

Even though you are in the United States illegally, you will be afforded the same protections in the juvenile court system. However, you may have additional rights because of your status. If you are actually the citizen of another country, you can request that the consulate from your native country be contacted. They may or may not provide additional assistance, but you do have the right to have them notified of your situation.

Getting Help

Regardless of whether you are handled as a juvenile or an adult, you do have the right to have an attorney. Before you resolve your juvenile case, make sure that you understand all of the criminal and immigration consequences. A criminal or immigration attorney can guide you in finding the best options for resolving your juvenile matters without causing more problems for your immigration status. 

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