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Missouri Juvenile Certification

The underlying goal of the Missouri juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate child offenders and, hopefully, prevent future misconduct or criminal​ behaviors before children become adults.  A specialized system with various programs and services has been put in place to work toward those ends.  Sometimes, however, a court may be compelled to consider whether the juvenile system itself is appropriately suited to address the treatment needs of an individual child involved in delinquency proceedings.  If, from the court's perspective, the available rehabilitation programs appear unlikely to succeed, the juvenile case may be dismissed and transferred to the adult criminal courts for prosecution.  The process through which the courts make this determination is called "certification."

When do Certification Proceedings occur?

Certification is either mandatory or discretionary depending on the charged offenses.  Any child, regardless of age, is subject to mandatory certification proceedings if he or she is alleged to have committed:

  • First Degree Murder;

  • Second Degree Murder;

  • First Degree Assault;

  • First Degree Rape;

  • First Degree Sodomy;

  • First Degree Robbery; 

  • Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance; or

  • Two or more prior, unrelated, felony-level offenses.

In cases where kids between ages 12 and 17 (18 as of January 1, 2021) are alleged to have committed any other felony-level offense, certification is discretionary.

What Happens at a Certification Hearing?

A certification hearing is not a trial on the merits of a case.  This means the Juvenile Officer is NOT required to prove that the child, in fact, commit the alleged offense(s).  Rather, these hearings are meant to give the court an idea as to 1) whether the child is a proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile justice system, and 2) whether there are reasonable prospects of rehabilitation through the juvenile-specific programming. 

Typically, the Juvenile Officer will call witnesses and offer evidence of various social considerations (below).  The child's attorney will then have the opportunity to question those witnesses and offer additional evidence on behalf of the child.

The social factors addressed at trial include:

  1. The seriousness of the offense and need to protect the community;

  2. Whether the offense involved viciousness, force, and violence;

  3. Whether the offense was committed against a person or against property;

  4. Whether the offense was part of a repetitive pattern;

  5. The child's prior experiences with the juvenile justice system or other juvenile institutions;

  6. The sophistication and maturity of the child (also considering the home environment);

  7. The child's age;

  8. The programs and facilities available to the juvenile court's consideration at disposition;

  9. Whether the child can benefit from the available treatment programs; and

  10. Racial disparity in certification.

Following evidence and arguments of the parties, the decision to certify or not certify is solely within the judge's discretion.

What Happens if my Child is Certified?

The local prosecuting attorney will likely file criminal charges, and the child will and undergo the adult criminal process until the case is dismissed or there is a final judgment/verdict.

If the child is convicted in adult criminal court, he or she will forever be considered an adult for any future criminal offenses.  Delinquency charges can no longer be filed against him or her, even if the child falls within the age limits for juvenile court jurisdiction.

If the child is found not guilty, jurisdiction for future offenses will revert back to the juvenile court.

What Happens if my Child is Not Certified?

The juvenile court will resume the delinquency proceedings and set a date for trial.

What do I do if my Child is Facing Certification?

Your child's certification defense will require guidance from an attorney who has experience in BOTH juvenile and criminal proceedings.  As a criminal defense attorney and former Attorney for the Juvenile Officer, Mike Herrin understands both systems.  Don't let your child get an adult conviction before he or she becomes an adult.

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