Degrees of Delinquency: All about New Mexico’s Delinquency Act

Most people have just the vaguest idea of the law as it applies to children. The juvenile law varies from state to state, and New Mexico is one of the few that generally don’t send juvenile offenders to adult court.

However, there are three degrees of delinquency under the Delinquency Act. This will determine if the juvenile will go to the children’s court or adult court. A juvenile attorney in Albuquerque can explain this more fully for a particular case. Here’s an overview of these categories.

Delinquent offender

Any child 13 years old or younger who commits a crime is automatically a delinquent offender, no matter what the offense. Older children up to 18 years old may also get a delinquent offender classification if you have a good defense attorney.

Delinquent offenders go to children’s court. They get lighter sentences or dispositions, in case of a conviction. This may mean probation or a prison sentence of no more than two years. This isn’t in regular jail, but in the custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department or CYFD. For serious crimes such as murder, a delinquent offender may remain in custody until the age of 21. It’s not good, but better than the alternatives.

Youthful offender

A youthful offender is a child between 14 and 18 years old who has committed crimes under §32A-2- 3(J) (1) of the Delinquency Act. These include kidnapping, aggravated assault, robbery, and arson.

Youthful offenders go to children’s court. However, the case may go to adult court if the prosecutor files a notice of intent. It’s the job of the defense attorney to persuade the prosecutor not to file such a notice. If the case stays in children’s court, the child will get a lighter sentence upon conviction.

Serious youthful offender

The category you want to avoid for your child is the serious youthful offender. This is for juveniles between the age of 15 and 18 years old who commit first-degree murder. The serious youthful offender goes straight to adult court.

Your child will receive the same sentence as what would befall an adult upon conviction. The good news is it doesn’t include the death penalty or a life sentence without parole. Even so, your defense attorney should do whatever it takes to avoid a charge of first-degree murder.

The main concern of a juvenile attorney is to get an acquittal for a client. It’s easier to do so if the juvenile goes to children’s court. It’s in the child’s best interests to avoid a classification of youth offender or serious youth offender. For this, you’ll need an attorney with wide experience in the juvenile court system in New Mexico.