When Can a Child Be Charged as an Adult?

Under Colorado law, a juvenile is any person under 18 years of age. And if a juvenile commits a crime, he or she can either be charged as a juvenile or an adult depending on the circumstances.

In following with the Colorado Juvenile Code, the goal of charging a minor as a juvenile is basically to “preserve and strengthen family ties whenever possible.” This means that Colorado is committed to looking out for a child’s welfare and to provide care, guidance, and discipline to allow the child to become a productive and responsible member of society. Sometimes this means keeping a child in the home with their parents, and sometimes it means remanding the child in a juvenile detention facility.

And then there are those rare occasions when a juvenile may be tried as an adult. Naturally, this can be a scary process for any family to endure. No one wants to think of their child being incarcerated with adult criminals. Unfortunately, though, it happens.

But what factors decide whether a child can be tried as an adult?

Well, the district attorney will look at a couple of things, such as:

  • How old the child is
  • The type of offense the child is being charged with
  • If the child has a prior history of juvenile delinquency
  • Whether the D.A. wants to transfer a pending juvenile case to the district court

What this means is that the closer in age the child is to being an adult, there’s a greater chance the child could be tried as an adult. The same goes for the severity of the criminal offense and if the child has a history of delinquency.

So a 13-year old child who commits theft for the first time will most likely be charged as a juvenile, whereas a 16-year old child who commits aggravated assault and who already has a criminal record might be tried as an adult.

It’s important to note that in Colorado, the youngest age at which a child can be tried as an adult is 12 years old.

Denver Juvenile Crimes Lawyer

How Does a Child Get Tried as an Adult?

A juvenile crime case can be moved to a Colorado district court either by a direct file or transfer.

A direct file is when the D.A. files charges against the juvenile directly in the district court. For this to happen, the juvenile has to be at least 16 years old at the time of the alleged offense, and that offense needs to be:

  • A class 1 or 2 felony (first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, child abuse, second degree murder, burglary or robbery of controlled substances, etc.)
  • A sexual assault that is a crime of violence or that falls under section 18-3-402
  • A crime of violence felony, or sexual assault or sexual assault on a child if they have a previous adjudicated felony or have previously been in district court proceedings

If a juvenile isn’t eligible for a direct file, the D.A. can also have the case transferred to district court if:

  • The child was 12 or 13 at the time of the alleged crime and it would be classified as a class 1 or 2 felony or violent crime if it had been committed by an adult
  • The child was 14 at the time of the alleged crime and it would be classified as a felony if it had been committed by an adult


About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.