Turning 18: More than High School Graduation By Daniel Smith

Turning 18 usually means graduation from high school. Many young people are attending ceremonies this week and in early June that mark a transition from the familiar faces and routines which have changed little for many years. Some will be off to college or other vocational training. A few have already found employment. Some have no direction at all.

But turning 18 means much more than leaving some old friends behind. It also marks the beginning of adult responsibility in the eyes of the law, at least to some degree. You still can't drink alcohol, legally. But for most other purposes, you are counted as an adult. Primarily, you are no longer under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system. If you run afoul of the law, you will be treated as an adult.

This means that if you are charged with a crime, you will no longer have the advantages of having your case heard in the juvenile system. You will not be able to have your record sealed. If you are sentenced to custody you will go to jail or prison. You will find that there are fewer opportunities for "second chances". If you violate the terms of your probation or parole, you will face the increased possibility of more custody.

The differences are more pronounced with more serious offenses. For instance, if you are convicted of a "strike", a serious or violent felony, you are presumed ineligible for probation. You will probably be sentenced to a significant amount of custody, possibly in state prison. This is very different from the juvenile programs which young offenders may have available in  juvenile court. The horror stories you hear about prison are largely true, especially for younger inmates.

Even for minor offenses, the penalties are more severe. Writing an apology letter to your victim is usually not an option. Fines, fees, mandatory classes and potential jail time are all possible consequences of misdemeanor convictions ranging from shoplifting to DUI. If you break the law as an adult, both you liberty and your property are at risk.

But on the positive side, there are advantages to being treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. You are entitled to reasonable bail. You have a right to a trial by jury. That's about it. The moral of the story is along with increased privileges come increased responsibility. If you are planning to party post graduation, keep that in mind.

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