Why teens in Utah can be tried as adults

Digital Exclusives

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A typical person obtains adulthood at the age of 18. So why is it that a 16 or 17-year old can be tried as an adult? 

According to the National Juvenile Defender Center in the state of Utah, no statute specifies the youngest age a minor can be determined a delinquent. 

ABC4 asked Greg Skordas, Criminal Defense Attorney and former Prosecutor what kind of criminal acts from a minor in the state of Utah constitute them being tried as an adult.

“Under Utah law, an adult is presumed to be anyone 18 and over, and a juvenile is a person who is under the age of 18. For two crimes, murder and aggravated murder, we allow, under Utah law, that a 16 and a 17-year-old, in other words, anyone who is 16 and older, can be charged as an adult directly.” 

In Utah, minors charged as adults don’t have to go through the juvenile court system. They can file as if the minor were an adult in every way if they have committed murder or aggravated murder, Skordas says. 

Utah has the “Serious Youth Offender Act” that allows 14 and 15-year-olds to be tried as adults depending on their crimes. Skordas says the decision to charge younger minors lies in the hands of the juvenile court.  

“If an offender is under the age of 16, they can still be charged as an adult but the prosecutor has to go through a certification process, and they have to convince a juvenile court judge that the adult court system is a better place for that person,” Skordas said. 

Skordas says one of the hardest decisions to make when a minor is tried as an adult isn’t if they are innocent or guilty, but where they will serve their time. 

He said the offender can go to juvenile detention or state prison and says there are many contributing factors to the decision. 

“You sort of look at his mental health, his physical maturity, his mental maturity, his prior criminal history –the safety to him- is he someone who will be preyed on if he is in an adult facility? Is he someone who will prey on others if he is in a juvenile facility?” Skordas said.

Skordas said another important law to remember is that a minor charged as an adult no matter the crime is exempt from facing the death penalty. 

“Under American law, a person who commits a crime under the age of 18 is not eligible for the death penalty because their minds don’t grasp in the same way–they’re still developing if you will,” Skordas adds.

What others are clicking on:

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.