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I’m a Minor. Can I Go to Jail for a Misdemeanor?


Being a minor doesn’t make you immune from criminal punishment. If you are a minor charged with a misdemeanor offense, you may face jail time or time in a detention center, depending on the severity of the crime and if you have prior criminal acts on your record.

Being a “juvenile” in the courtroom means that you are under the legal age of 18 years. If you violate the law, you often face the consequences different than an adult but you are not immune to receiving an adult punishment. In some cases, Juvenile Court judges are lenient, and the goal in mind is to rehabilitate the minor rather than put them in prison. A juvenile offender typically goes to Juvenile Court when they break the law, but in certain cases, they may be tried as an adult.

Misdemeanors Are Less Serious Crimes

Misdemeanors are non-violent offenses that typically include theft, possession of illegal substances, indecent exposure, driving under the influence, minor assault, and other offenses that do not lead to physical harm.

Adults committing misdemeanors can typically face a few days or up to a year in prison, fines from the court, and court-ordered rehab (depending on the offense). However, a juvenile offender is unlikely to encounter these same penalties. A juvenile will still be presented his or her charges in front of a judge, but they will rarely need bail for release before trial. Instead, juveniles are typically released into the custody of a parent or family member who can show the court that they will bring the juvenile back for their hearing.

One of the more common crimes committed by juveniles is possession. Whether it is the possession of an illegal substance or alcohol, this crime can be serious. In fact, a first offense comes with a fine of $100. But once it becomes a second offense, a juvenile can face community service of 40 hours, a 90-day suspension of their driver’s license, and up to $1,000 in fines.

What Happens When a Juvenile Commits a Misdemeanor?

A juvenile that commits a misdemeanor is typically charged in Juvenile Court. They will have a probation officer or prosecutor overseeing the case, and they will make their argument to the judge about why the offender is guilty. When the charges are proven in Juvenile Court, the judge can use their discretion to determine what penalty is applicable.

The court does have broad discretion when it comes to sentencing and creating punishments for the juvenile, and in some cases, the parents may also suffer from these punishments. Just some common penalties for a misdemeanor committed by an juvenile include:

  • Placement in foster care and removal from the home – if the court feels the home is not adequate for rehabilitating the juvenile
  • Enrollment in a school for juvenile offenders
  • Placement in a juvenile detention facility for a set number of weeks or months
  • Enrollment in a rehabilitation program if drugs or alcohol were involved
  • Community service hours
  • Paying restitution to the victim of the crime

When Does a Juvenile Go to Jail?

Rarely does a juvenile go to jail over a misdemeanor, but there are instances where juveniles are charged as adults. This means the potential for being sentenced to jail increases.

Every state has laws in place dictating the age where a juvenile can be considered for adult court. For example, California allows anyone over the age of 14 to be tried as an adult if the crime is suitable. Other times, it is left up to the judge’s discretion whether the juvenile’s actions warrant adult court.

Typically, a juvenile is only tried in the adult court system when the judge feels that the Juvenile Court cannot rehabilitate or provide adequate punishment. Serious criminal acts, such as murder, armed robbery, and rape often result in a juvenile going into the adult court system.

When it comes to misdemeanors, petty theft, vandalism, and non-violent offenses rarely go into the adult court system.

However, some circumstances might increase the chances of a juvenile going into the adult system and possibly serving jail time:

  • Drunken or drugged driving that results in serious bodily injury or death. A juvenile that drinks and drives and causes an accident could be charged with vehicular assault or manslaughter, and the Juvenile Court judge may feel going into the adult court system is better.
  • Multiple juvenile offenses committed prior. If a juvenile has a record and they have already gone through multiple instances of Juvenile Court rehabilitation, then the judge may feel that punishments in the past are ineffective and that the juvenile would be best served taking on an adult court punishment instead.

The Right Defense Attorney Is Critical

If your teen is arrested, do not assume that Juvenile Court will go lightly. Even juvenile court judges have little patience for misdemeanor acts. While most of the time your child can walk away without a day in a detention hall, detention halls are similar to jail time. Your child will not see friends, family (unless during visitation hours), and their life is structured in the detention center identical to an adult jail or prison.

It is imperative that you hire an attorney who is ready to fight for your child. Children and teenagers make mistakes, but they should not have to spend months in a juvenile detention center where they can be traumatized or even encouraged to become a repeat offender.

While the system says they are trying to rehabilitate, often these centers leave children with the mindset that they can continue committing more crimes because they are already labeled a “criminal.”

Hire a Local Defense Attorney with Experience Handling Juvenile Cases

If your child was arrested, contact the attorneys at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, immediately.

The sooner you get an attorney involved, the sooner our team may be able to work on a better outcome that sets your child up for a successful future. While your child’s juvenile record is sealed, that does not undo the trauma of going through a trial for a childhood mistake. Our team wants to ensure they have a shot at a normal, enjoyable adulthood.

Call us now to schedule your free case evaluation by calling us or requesting more information online about our legal services.