Can Juveniles Be Tried as Adults in Tennessee?

When a young person makes a mistake or is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, juvenile crime laws are in place that ensure that criminal penalties match both the act committed and their mental capacity to willfully commit it. For example, if a young child steals the keys to the family car and drives off with it, they may not benefit much by suffering criminal penalties. Instead, they can attend other diversion programs to help them understand right and wrong in hopes that they won’t commit the act again.

Sometimes, a criminal act is so heinous that juveniles are instead tried in adult courts. A recent notable case involved a defendant named Michelle Carter who, through text messages, coerced her then-boyfriend to commit suicide. Even though she was 17 at the time of her boyfriend’s death, she was tried as an adult due to having “wantonly and recklessly” pushed someone else toward their death. The result was a 2.5-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Can Juveniles be Tried as Adults?

Tennessee juveniles can be tried as adults on allegations that they were:

  • 17 years old when the criminal act was committed
  • At least 16 years old and attempted robbery
  • Between 14 and 17 and committed a felony
  • Accused of murder under the age of 16

Children make mistakes, and laws are written to ensure that each child who does so still has a good chance at a favorable outcome. Juvenile courts are meant to provide young offenders with a path to rehabilitation that won’t destroy their lives for good. For young people involved in serious crimes, however, Tennessee has rules in place to have them transferred to an adult court.

State law also provides that anyone who was tried as an adult with thereafter always be charged as an adult. However, those charged with crimes committed before they were 18 may sometimes be allowed to retain juvenile status until their 19th birthday.

Children who are convicted of adult crimes under the age of 16 must be held in a juvenile facility until they turn 16. They also cannot be housed with adult inmates. No matter what charge brings a child to adult court, they cannot be given the death sentence.

Defending against Adult Court for Juveniles

For someone under the age of 18, a prison sentence can make their lives far worse than before and virtually wipe out any chance they have of a hopeful, successful future. There is almost no circumstance where a prison sentence would benefit a juvenile more than a rehabilitation program would. A juvenile crime attorney can help these young people tell their side of the story and avoid suffering more serious consequences.

Some effective defenses include:

  • Mental incapacity: In cases where children commit acts of violence, judges and juries need to see that the defendant did not understand the consequences of their actions. Making a plea for this defense requires a different hearing and should involve the use of medical and mental health experts to corroborate testimony.
  • Judicial diversion: American prisons have a poor track record of rehabilitating their incarcerated. The better solution for a youthful offender is to be put on probation whenever possible. This allows the child to safely practice better behavior outside a hostile environment.
  • Illegally obtained evidence: Law enforcement are notorious for taking liberties when creating a criminal narrative. In many cases, young people are charged with far more serious crimes than any act they commit. It is crucial that these kinds of errors are used to keep them out of adult courts.

Before deciding to send a child to adult court, the judge will first consider the child’s prior delinquency records, any consequences they already suffered, who or what was harmed in their criminal act, whether there was gang activity, and if the offense was premeditated.

Let Attorney Andrew Farmer fight juvenile charges on your behalf. Schedule your initial consultation today.