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Wisconsin Laws and Policies for Juvenile Offenders Charged As Adults

 Posted on June 11, 2018 in Drug Crimes

Milwaukee juvenile justice attorneys, drug trafficking, drug trafficking laws, juvenile criminal charges, juvenile offendersBeing arrested and charged with a crime is a serious matter for any person; however criminal charges are especially concerning for juvenile and young offenders and their families. Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system is complex. Therefore, it is important to understand the consequences that minors may face, especially if the charges are serious enough for the juvenile to be charged as an adult and what defense options exist.

Wisconsin Laws and Policies

Prior to 1996, all juvenile court cases were handled pursuant to the provisions of Chap. 48, Wis. Stats. Since that time, juvenile delinquency cases are handled under Chap. 938, Wis. Stats. and Child in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPS) cases under Chap. 48. The so-called “reforms” enacted in 1996 harshly criminalized Wisconsin juvenile law, e.g., carved out an age group of children (17 year olds), who are now always prosecuted and punished as adults, lowered the delinquency age to 10 years old, and allowed for automatic waiver of children to adult court depending on the type of felonies they are charged with. Most children 10 years and older who face charges of violating the criminal law will be tried in juvenile court if they are under the age of 17. However, there are a number of situations in which a minor may be charged as an adult. These include:

  • Waiver of juveniles 14 and older – the District Attorney can petition the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction and have the child tried in adult court. Waivers are available in the following circumstances:

    • A juvenile who is at least 14 years old alleged to have committed felony murder, reckless homicide, sexual assault, hostage taking, kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated burglary, manufacturing or distribution of a controlled substance, or participation in gang activity.

  • Under Chap. 938, numerous offenses are subject to original adult court supervision. Some of the types of crimes this includes are:

    • Juveniles who are at least 10 years old who have allegedly attempted or committed first or second degree murder or reckless homicide.

    • Juveniles who have allegedly committed assault or battery while incarcerated in a juvenile correctional facility or residential center.

    • Juveniles who have previously been adjudged delinquent.

Penalties faced by juvenile offenders depend on the circumstances of the case, the age of the minor, whether they are adjudicated in the juvenile system or as an adult. Juveniles under the age of 15 who are tried as adults may be held in secure custody in a juvenile detention facility or the juvenile section of a county jail. Juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17 may face the same consequences as adult offenders, or their case may be handled by the serious juvenile offender program. After a juvenile offender reaches the age of 17, he or she may be placed in an adult state prison.

Juvenile Justice Reform Efforts

Unfortunately for young people and their parents, Wisconsin is one of only nine states in the nation in which all 17 year-olds are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system. You’re an adult for punishment purposes, but nothing else. This get-tough regime enacted in 1996 flies in the face of fairness, common sense, psychological and sociological studies, and the reality recognized by the majority of the United States Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 569 (2005).

[A]s any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies . . . tend to confirm, “[a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.” . . . (“Even the normal 16–year–old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult”). It has been noted that “adolescents are overrepresented statistically in virtually every category of reckless behavior.” . . . In recognition of the comparative immaturity and irresponsibility of juveniles, almost every State prohibits those under 18 years of age from voting, serving on juries, or marrying without parental consent.

The State Bar of Wisconsin and one of the authors of this blog when he was on the Board of Governors vigorously pushed for enactment of the Second Chance Act, which would have returned most 17 year-olds to juvenile court jurisdiction. Despite bipartisan support for this real reform to undo the harmful aspect of the 1996 law, the bill did not get through the Wisconsin Legislature. Recently, the Legislature took some minor steps to address changes to state’s juvenile detention system due to reports of inmate abuse and unsafe conditions at the state’s only juvenile corrections facility. A bill was passed that will place serious juvenile offenders in a new juvenile prison that will be overseen by the state Department of Corrections. Juveniles who are charged with less serious offenses will be placed in secure residential care facilities, which are intended to allow offenders to remain closer to their homes and provide them with the resources and stability they need. Much more needs to be done to protect the best interests of Wisconsin children.

Contact a Milwaukee, WI Criminal Defense Lawyer

If your child is facing juvenile or criminal charges that may result in him or her being waived to adult court or tried as an adult, the experienced attorneys at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP can help you understand and protect your child’s rights and the best options for defense. Contact our Milwaukee juvenile justice attorneys at 414-271-1440.






P. Marcotte, “Criminal Kids,” 76 ABA Journal 61 (April 1990)

W. Ayers, “The Criminalization of Youth,” 12 Rethinking Schools, No. 2 (Winter 1997)

D. Bishop, “Juvenile Justice Under Attack,” 10 Fla. J. Law & Pub. Policy 129 (1998)

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