When Little Joannie Gets Busted
You may think you know enough to write about adult bad guys, but what if the cops arrest a 9-year-old in your crime fiction?
Here’s a checklist of basic issues when writing about children who break the law—
Check your state for the age range for children to be arrested and prosecuted. In Arizona, juvenile court jurisdiction begins when a child turns 8 and ends at 18. So, if 6-year-old Chloe kills someone, the State will have to wait until she turns 8 to put her in jail.
Children are kept apart from adults in jails. Maricopa County locks up kids in facilities completely separate from adults. Find out where your jurisdiction locks up children.
Children, like adults, are presumed innocent and have the right to a trial, plus other rights—to question witnesses, remain silent, and so on. In Arizona, the trial is in front of a judge, not a jury. Check your state in case they allow jury trials for minors.
In Arizona, judges can put kids on probation or lock them up in the department of corrections until they turn 18.The judge can order the kid to do work hours, pay restitution to a victim, and pay a fine. In Arizona, supervision ends when the child turns 18. You need to check if your state allows additional monitoring past 18. In Arizona, unpaid fines and restitution are turned into civil judgments against the offender after he turns 18.
A quick way to find laws about juvenile offenders is to Google “State’s name juvenile statutes.”