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Infancy and Age of Criminal Responsibility

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Infancy is a widely recognized legal defense in criminal law, but what is it all about? The principle of infancy states that minors (individuals under the age of 18 years) shouldn’t be prosecuted for crimes because they’re too young to have criminal intent.

The defense is typically used in statutory courts and its application can vary with jurisdiction. Criminal offenders between the ages of 16 and 18 are tried in Juvenile courts and not in courts for adults. If you live in Toronto, and your child or a close person who is below 18 years is facing criminal charges, you can contact criminal lawyers in Toronto for legal counsel.

The Legal Position on Infancy

The U.S Penal Code Part IV via the juvenile courts’ deals with the correction of young offenders or juvenile delinquency. Juvenile courts were established to address rising cases of young offenders before they became adults in the U.S. 

The Infancy defense does not shield a young defendant from prosecution, it only protects a young defendant from being prosecuted in the same way as an adult. In other words, infancy defenses do not eliminate juvenile adjudications in criminal cases involving underage offenders.

Criminal offenders between the ages of 7 and 18 were categorized as follows under the earlier version of Criminal Law:

  • Offenders under 7 years were considered incapable of having criminal intent hence, couldn’t  be prosecuted;
  • Offenders aged between 7 and 14 years were presumed to have committed an alleged offense until evidence linking them to the offense was found–rebuttable presumption;
  • Offenders aged from 14 years were taken to criminal courts for adults to answer for alleged crimes.

Modern criminal statutes treat different age groups differently although some jurisdictions still use the old version of Criminal Law where rebuttable and irrefutable presumptions vary with the age of the accused person. The jurisdiction of litigation in criminal cases involving young offenders through a process referred to as juvenile waiver. The prerequisites for a juvenile waiver can include:

  1. Nature and seriousness of the alleged offense;
  2. The complexity and sophistication of the case;
  3. The offender’s criminal background or history;
  4. The public security threat posed by the offender.

Types of Juvenile Waivers

A juvenile waiver invalidates a court’s jurisdiction and moves the case to an adult criminal court where the offenders will be tried henceforth–the government bearing the burden of proof. However, a transfer should be for the benefit of the offender and the public. There are three juvenile waivers, including:

1. Discretionary Waivers

Discretionary waivers occur where juvenile courts have the discretion to decide whether the offender will be tried in criminal or juvenile courts but the application of this waiver varies by state. Juvenile courts consider the following factors before allowing a case to be tried in a criminal court:

  • The age of the accused;
  • Nature or type of the alleged offense; and
  • The criminal history of the accused.

2. Presumptive Waiver

Presumptive waivers recommend specific criminal charges, such as felonies, arson, and more, to be transferred to criminal courts and the offender must explain why they shouldn’t be tried in a criminal court, which may involve proving their innocence of the alleged crime. The prosecutor must prove that the accused is guilty of an alleged offense by using a probable cause standard.

3. Mandatory Waivers

Mandatory waivers can only be executed when the following conditions are met;

  • When specific crimes are the subject of the lawsuit;
  • A minimum age requirement, depending on the jurisdiction;

A Practical Example of an Infancy Defense

Kevin (10 years old) is arrested after he’s caught shoplifting chocolate by a local shopkeeper. The local D.A has been having many such cases in the recent past and has decided to make an example of poor Kevin by initiating legal action for theft against Kevin in the criminal court. 

Juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction for offenders aged below 18 years where Kevin resides (X state). Kevin can successfully cite the infancy defense and his case will be transferred to the juvenile court. The juvenile case has jurisdiction over Kevin’s case, meaning Kevin should be acquitted of shoplifting thanks to the infancy defense.

How can Criminal Lawyers Help

  1. Experience

Lawyers gain experience by handling similar cases repeatedly, proving that practice makes perfect. A criminal lawyer will likely have handled a case like yours and that’s why you might need to hire one. Research shows that the chances of winning a case increase when the accused person has legal representation

  1. Legal Advice

The advice of a lawyer can be invaluable because they’ve passed that road before. A free legal consultation can help you weigh the options of working with a lawyer as you get free legal advice.

Besides infancy, other defenses that can be used by young criminal offenders to evade prosecution include intoxication, mistake of law, and mistake of fact.

(This article is a third-party guest post and is not written by the editorial team of Fox Interviewer nor the author)


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About author
Ujwal Sharma is an Indian Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Investor and Digital Marketer. He is the Founder and CEO at Uzi World Digital. Follow Ujwal Sharma on Twitter - @Theujwalsharma
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