Because the juvenile court system operates to rehabilitate kids who’ve been involved in crimes, sometimes families underestimate the seriousness of potential punishments. Much comes down to the decisions of the juvenile court judge, the specifics of the incident and the child’s own background and juvenile offender history. Even more seriously, some teens may sometimes be charged as adults—especially in grave  cases. That’s why it’s important to understand what’s at stake in juvenile theft and burglary cases.  

Juvenile theft vs. burglary 

Theft is the act of taking or converting someone’s property or services without their permission. While it can include anything from wire fraud to breaching fiduciary duties, for juveniles, theft often means stealing someone’s personal property—like a TV, phone or wallet—or shoplifting. 

Burglary, on the other hand, is defined as unlawfully entering or remaining in a structure with the intent to commit a felony or theft. The “structure” can be any number of things: an occupied home, a store, a vacant building, a dorm room, even a private break room in an otherwise public space. Burglary does not have to involve prying open a window or breaking down a door. The intended crime doesn’t actually have to happen, either—a suspect can leave without stealing anything and still be charged with burglary.

Burglary cases involving dwellings—places where people may live—are more serious, with home invasion often carrying the stiffest penalties. Assault or the presence of weapons also increases the likely severity of punishments, sometimes pushing juvenile cases into the adult criminal justice system. 

In Georgia, 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. 

Juvenile punishments for theft or burglary

In juvenile court, there’s a lot more flexibility in disposition options (the equivalent of sentencing in the adult criminal justice system). For an adult committing theft, for example, there are fairly strict breakdowns based on the value of what was stolen and the potential sentence. 

For juveniles, though, the judge may order: 

  • Fines
  • Restitution 
  • Education programs or counseling
  • Probation 
  • House arrest or electronic monitoring
  • Community service
  • Detention in a juvenile detention center

A juvenile attorney can work within the system to downgrade charges, for example, by challenging the “intent to commit a felony or theft” aspect of burglary to reduce it to criminal trespass. A juvenile theft lawyer may also be able to advocate for a less serious disposition, like community service instead of detention, which protects the minor’s future. In some cases, the court may even decide not to pursue formal charges, especially if the crime was not a serious offense, the child is younger and there is no history of other offenses. 

Designated felonies in the juvenile court system

There are, however, designated felonies—crimes that the Georgia Legislature considers to be the most serious. They are broken down into Class A and Class B designated felonies. 

While many Class A designated felonies involve assault, they also include theft or burglary crimes like home invasion in the first degree or armed robbery not involving a firearm. If the child is found delinquent, the judge may order restrictive custody, restrictive custody, meaning ordering incarceration in a residential facility for up to five years. 

Class B designated felonies may include robbery, home invasion in the second degree, smash and grab burglary or a second theft of a motor vehicle. In these cases, the child may be placed in the Department of Juvenile Justice custody for up to 36 months, with up to half of that time possibly spent in restrictive custody. 

Being sent to a juvenile detention facility means being away from family, school and friends—missing out on many opportunities to grow and mature. 

Speak with a Juvenile defense attorney

Juvenile theft and burglary cases can come with tremendous consequences—consequences that can entirely derail a young person’s life. An experienced attorney who understands the complexities and potential of the juvenile court system can advocate for less restrictive dispositions, thereby protecting future opportunities. If your teen has been arrested for shoplifting, burglary or theft, you need an experienced shoplifting lawyer or juvenile theft lawyer to help. Call 770-720-6336 today for a Defense Strategy Meeting. 

If you aren’t ready to schedule a meeting, then click here to download our complimentary ebook, 5 Things Not to Do When You’ve Been Charged with a Crime, to learn what you need to know to start protecting your future immediately.