Teen felony crimes are those crimes that are committed by individuals that are eighteen years old or younger. Felony crimes are those crimes that are more serious than misdemeanors and generally carry fines, jail time, and probation conviction penalties. Teen felony crimes are prosecuted differently than adult crimes in some ways. It is also possible for a teen felony suspect to be tried as an adult in the eyes of the law.
Approximately twenty-five percent of the United States population- or 70 million Americans- are under the age of eighteen. The changing composition of the population and other social forces such as economics, education, and health care have a considerable impact on the juvenile justice system and influence the way that teen felony crimes are prosecuted and punished.
The main way that teen felony crimes are analyzed is by investigation of arrest statistics. This means that teen felony acts that go unreported are not often factored into the information available regarding teen felony crimes. Of the arrests made, approximately 2.3 million teen felony offenders were apprehended in 2002 alone. Approximately 17 percent of all arrests and 15 percent of all violent crimes were committed by teen felony offenders that same year.
In terms of violent crime and teen felony offenders, approximately 1,700 juveniles are involved in murder crimes each year. Five percent of all murders are committed by teen felony offenders. About 1,500 juveniles are killed every year due to violent felony crimes. Forty percent of these minors were less than five years old and almost half of all these crimes involved the use of a firearm.
The crimes most often committed by teen felony offenders often involve some sort of property offense such as arson, vandalism, motor vehicle theft, and other similar teen felony crimes. In 2002 one in eight arrests for drug abuse violations involved a teen felony offender; one in five weapons offenses involved a teen felony criminal, and one in four robberies involved teen felony offenders. While the number of teen felony offenders has been declining since the mid- 1990s, teen felony arrests for driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) has been steadily increasing. Between 1993 and 2002, there was a forty-six percent increase in the number of teen felony DUI arrests. The number of female teen felony offenders that were arrested on DUI charges increased by ninety-three percent in the same time period.
Approximately two-thirds of all teen felony offenders are prosecuted through the juvenile court system. In some cases, prosecutors have the option to pursue a case against a teen felony offender through the adult legal system. The juvenile courts, however, do process over one million teen felony cases every year. The juvenile courts punish teen felony offenders more often with sentences that include probation or residential placement rather than jail time. The way that teen felony cases are tried depends largely on the nature of the crime committed, the age of the alleged teen felony offender, past offenses, and a variety of other factors.