The Ultimate Guide to Juvenile Crimes in Missouri

If your child has been arrested and charged with a juvenile crime, it is an often upsetting, daunting, and scary time. As a parent, you have a lot to be thinking about for the future, but one way to ensure your child gets the best chance at a clean slate is to educate yourself on what this means for you and your child and make a decision about what next steps you need to take. 

This guide will explain all the different aspects of juvenile crimes in Missouri, and answer some of our most common questions.  If you or your child are currently facing juvenile charges, contact Combs Waterkotte or call us at (314) 900-HELP for a free consultation. We can help you!


  • What happens when they are arrested? 
  • How young does my child need to be to be considered a juvenile? 
  • Can they be charged as an adult? 
  • Can I be held responsible for their charges? 
  • What are the different types of juvenile crime? 
    • Truancy 
    • Juvenile DWI 
    • Juvenile Traffic Violation 
    • Juvenile Marijuana Possession 
    • Juvenile Drug Possession 
    • Underage Drinking 
    • Shoplifting and Theft 
    • Harassment 
    • Stalking 
    • Assault 
    • Vandalism 
    • Trespassing 
    • Arson 
    • Gun Possession 
  • What are the differences between juvenile and adult courts? 
  • How can you help your child in the legal proceedings? 

What happens when a child is arrested? 

If you’ve only just heard that your child has gotten into trouble, take a deep breath. Your child will be treated with respect, and will only be handcuffed in certain circumstances if they are over fourteen or if they are deemed a threat to themselves. The court will immediately examine the circumstances for the arrest and order that they are released in most cases. If this is not the case, they can only be held in detention until their hearing, which must be within 3 days of apprehension, unless there are special circumstances. 

You will be given notice of everything you need to know about the detention hearing and their right to legal counsel, which we recommend you arrange for them. 

How young does my child need to be to be considered a juvenile? 

For your child to be considered a juvenile in Missouri, they must be no older than 17.

As a juvenile, you, as their family, will be heavily involved in the leading proceedings and the state’s focus is on their safety and encouraging positive rehabilitation and ensuring they become a healthy and positive member of society. 

Can they be charged as an adult? 

Only in very severe circumstances. If the court wishes to try them as an adult, it will be due to the seriousness of the crime and they will need to certify the juvenile as an adult. Currently, your child can be tried as an adult once they turn 18. 

In special circumstances, they can be certified as an adult by a court if they 12 or older and charged with a felony. This generally only affects very serious crimes such as:

Can I be held responsible for their charges? 

You are responsible for ensuring your child receives an education, so in cases of truancy (see below), you may be held responsible. In most other cases, you will not be responsible and you will only be responsible for restitution if you are deemed not to have done your due diligence as a parent in preventing your child’s behavior. 

What are the different types of juvenile crime? 


Missouri requires your child to attend school regularly between the ages of 7 and 16, with a few exceptions if they have mental or physical disabilities or if they are 14 or older and are employed. Children can be homeschooled but parents must be able to prove they are receiving at least 1000 hours of instruction. 

If your child does not attend school to a reasonable degree or have a valid excuse, you, as a parent, maybe taken to truancy court. You have a legal right to counsel for truancy court, as you would any other legal hearing. While there aren’t any serious charges for truancy, you may be fined $25 a day for the days your child has missed, which will likely be a significant fine. 

Juvenile DWI 

Missouri takes underage DWI charges very seriously. Here, underage drunk drivers cause more accidents than of-age drivers. The main difference between an adult DWI charge and an underage DWI charge is that the blood alcohol content can be as little as 0.02 to be over the limit, compared to the 0.08 adult limit. 

A juvenile DWI can be just as serious as an adult DWI, such as up to 6 months in jail, loss of license, and a fine of up to $500. Just as with adults, a first-time DWI offense will result in having their license suspended for 90 days, and a second DWI offense will result in one year’s suspension. The maximum punishment for a second juvenile offense is up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. 

Juvenile Traffic Violation 

Traffic violations are unique, as once your child is old enough to drive, they are considered an adult for crimes out on the road. The Juvenile Division (Family Court) cannot take any cases of a child over the age of 15 who has a traffic violation. However, if the traffic violation is severe enough to warrant jail time, the traffic court judge will likely request for the juvenile court to order this. If your child has a traffic violation, see our information on traffic violations

Juvenile Marijuana and Drug Possession 

It is not uncommon for teenagers to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, and even more serious drugs, but if they are caught by the police these instances can become a serious error of judgment in their lives. If your child is caught with marijuana or another drug (and knowingly possessed it), they will be charged with the same crime as an adult, but with very different consequences. 

The Juvenile Division has more options for dealing with a juvenile marijuana offender than the adult courts, such as drug counseling, probation, and diversion. In most cases, your child will have to complete a rehabilitation program, but won’t suffer more serious consequences. It is always with consulting a juvenile criminal defense lawyer to ensure your child’s case runs smoothly and won’t leave a mark on them permanently. Your child will only receive “detention” (jail time) in serious cases, such as possessing Schedule I or II drugs. 

Underage Drinking 

Underage drinking charges in St. Louis and throughout Missouri extend to anyone found drinking alcohol under the age of 21. Anyone under the legal age in the possession of alcohol or attempting to purchase it is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $300. In some cases, they may also have their driving privileges suspended. 

Shoplifting and Theft 

Fortunately, the courts do not deem children to have the same decision-making ability as adults, and so treats juvenile shoplifting and theft charges differently to adult charges. The Juvenile Division aims to course-correct children who steal, and they have a wide range of possible penalties they may choose for a juvenile offender depending on the severity of the case. 

In most minor, first-time cases, the child will be released back to the parent’s care. If the case goes to court, the judge will likely give them a severe talking to and warn them about the path they are on. 

In some shoplifting and theft cases, the offender may be ordered to pay restitution to the person or business they stole from. This means they need to pay back the value they stole. In some cases, this responsibility may fall to the parent, if the court believes you did not do your due diligence as a parent to prevent their behavior. If you have done all you can, they may be ordered to find employment to pay off the restitution. 

Other possible penalties are a probationary period, a diversionary program, counseling, and in serious cases, detention in a center or home confinement. If your child has been arrested for shoplifting, their case is not insignificant, and you should seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you ensure your child gets the best outcome. 

Harassment and Stalking

Harassment is a new crime that was introduced in 2017 to help combat serious bullying in (and out of) schools. Here in Missouri, schools must report certain crimes to the police to be dealt with, and this now includes harassment. This new law is much debated but aims to cut back on children driven to suicide by their peers and adults. Harassment is defined as “causing emotional distress”, so will likely include juvenile stalking. 


Recent law changes have now made peer-to-peer juvenile assault a serious offense, and juvenile offenders can be charged with a felony in some cases. These new laws mean children and parents need to be more vigilant and take their behavior more seriously. 

A juvenile may be charged with simple assault for injuring another person (child or adult) or for seriously threatening to harm another person. Simple assault (any straightforward injury or serious threat to another) is a misdemeanor and may result in jail time, community service, probation, restitution, counseling, or a fine. If your child has been charged with assault, you need an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer on their case as soon as possible, to ensure one mistake isn’t blown out of proportion. 


Vandalism laws apply to everyone countrywide, regardless of age. If a juvenile commits an act of vandalism, their case is heard by the Juvenile Division, instead of the adult court. An act of vandalism must be proven to have been done on purpose. The Juvenile Division as a range of possible penalties, but in minor vandalism cases, acts to get the child back on track through restitution and fines (see shoplifting for an explanation of restitution), probation, a diversionary program, or in severe cases, detention (jail or home confinement). 


Like cases of vandalism, the crimes of trespassing are the same as an adult, but because a child’s trespassing is, in most cases, done with very different intentions than adult trespassers, it comes with different penalties. The Juvenile Division will need the intent to trespass proven, and the penalties are likely to be probation, a diversion program, a fine, or in more severe cases detention. 


Arson occurs if your child purposely sets something alight. The penalties for juvenile arson will vary wildly depending on the consequences, so it’s important you get in touch with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to defend your child’s case as it develops. In minor cases, they will likely be required to pay restitution and undergo counseling, but arson can grow to a serious charge. 

Gun Possession 

If your child has been found to be in unlawful possession of a gun, it’s vital you find a criminal defense lawyer to represent them as soon as possible. The possible penalties for unlawful possession vary wildly from case to case and may be as minor as a fine or as major as jail time. 

What are the differences between juvenile and adult courts? 

In Missouri the two courts are separate. The Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court (also known simply as Family Court) has the jurisdiction to exclusively juvenile crimes, and cases of abuse, neglect, adoptions, and other family affairs. 

How can you help your child in the legal proceedings? 

To help your child you need to be supportive as they will likely be scared of the legal proceedings, and the best thing you can do is talk to an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

Your criminal defense lawyer will be able to take the case in hand and take steps to ensure your child’s future is untarnished. If you’re looking for a sympathetic criminal defense lawyer in St. Louis who will tirelessly fight for your child’s future, contact us today. We aim to get back to all inquiries in less than two hours, so you can have the best St. Louis juvenile defense attorney on your case as soon as possible.