Studies have shown that the adolescent brain is still developing, and that teens are more prone to engaging in reckless behavior without fully understanding the consequences of their actions. This is because the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain is fully developed, but the self-control portion is not yet fully functional.
Because of this, crimes committed by juveniles are ordinarily prosecuted differently, under the premise that adolescents cannot or should not be held fully accountable for their actions. The Juvenile Court System focuses on rehabilitating juvenile offenders rather than enforcing long-term incarceration that may lead at-risk adolescents further down the path to a life of crime.
Most people think this means that crimes committed as a juvenile are automatically “wiped clean” when juvenile offenders reach 18 years of age. However, in many cases this simply is not true, and mistakes made as adolescents follow former juvenile delinquents far into adulthood, preventing them from becoming productive members of society.
If an adolescent you care about is at risk of getting into legal trouble, it is important to be aware of the often-unrecognized long-term consequences of juvenile convictions in Colorado, as well as what to do about it.
Below, we discuss some of the unanticipated consequences of juvenile offenses, and what you can do as parent, loved one, or former juvenile offender to ensure that the past stays in the past.
Collateral Consequences of Juvenile Convictions in Colorado
Collateral consequences refer to statutory penalties added on top of a conviction. This means that it is not a direct consequence of conviction (like imprisonment or criminal fines), but is imposed administratively.
For example, if a juvenile is a non-citizen and is convicted of a felony, he or she may face deportation. Even if the juvenile is in the US legally and has spent most of their life in the US, he or she can still be deported, forcing family members to also leave the US.
Collateral consequences can also affect juveniles who are US citizens. For example, there have been cases in which entire families are evicted from public housing when a claim appears against one juvenile family member. Public housing authorities only require a police report to claim that the family violated their contract for occupancy and legally evict them.
Social Consequences of Colorado Juvenile Convictions
A juvenile conviction also has significant social consequences, including a social stigma from the community and lost job, housing, or schooling prospects.
The social stigma of being labeled a criminal undoubtedly has profound consequences from the still-developing adolescent brain. Teens with a criminal record may be shunned by their former circle of friends, or be pushed to align themselves with other at-risk teens who are likely to encourage further criminal activity.
Although courts ordinarily remove juvenile offenses from public record after a specified period of time (usually five years) many juvenile sentences involve criminal fines and expensive rehabilitation programs.
If the juvenile or family cannot afford to pay the final bill, which can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars, the charge stays on the juvenile’s record into adulthood. This compromises employment and education prospects, and any outstanding balance also accrues interest, often putting former juvenile offenders under a seemingly inescapable burden.
Long-Term Economic Impact of Juvenile Convictions in Colorado
Studies have shown that offenses committed as a juvenile have long-term economic impacts that last well into adulthood. Former juvenile offenders have a significantly lower earning potential than other adults of a similar socioeconomic status.
Most economic impacts are related to the fact that juvenile charges often make it much harder for offenders to obtain an education. Time served in juvenile detention centers may cause adolescents to fall behind in school. Moreover, youths convicted of criminal offenses are much more likely to drop out of high school.
Juvenile offenses may also negatively impact college admissions, or make former offenders ineligible to apply for federal financial aid. A college education is required for most high-paying jobs, so this is likely to significantly decrease the earning potential of prior juvenile offenders long into adulthood.
Colorado Juvenile Record Expungement
Many juvenile criminal records are automatically expunged or sealed from public view when offenders reach adulthood. However, this may not always occur, depending on the circumstances of the case. We therefore encourage former juvenile offenders to consult with a Colorado attorney, who can help ensure that juvenile records are expunged or sealed, and that the past remains in the past.
Juvenile crimes have long-lasting impacts, following juvenile offenders far until adulthood. Therefore, any and all juvenile charges should be taken very seriously, and Colorado families should ensure that any prior juvenile convictions are sealed from public view whenever possible.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.