Skip to Content

When Minors Are Tried as Adults in Wisconsin


The recent case of a 10-year-old boy who allegedly shot and killed his mother over a dispute about a virtual reality headset has highlighted the Wisconsin laws that govern when minor children are tried as adults. Prosecutors have charged the child with first-degree reckless homicide, which automatically means that he will be tried as an adult according to a Wisconsin law that requires that anyone over the age of 10 be tried as an adult if charged with first or second-degree intentional homicide or first-degree reckless homicide. If convicted, the child will face a maximum of 60 years in prison.

What Can Happen If a Child is Tried as an Adult

If a minor child is charged and convicted of a crime as an adult, they are likely to face adult sentencing. This could mean that the child ma be sent to an adult facility rather than a juvenile detention center.

Even though no parent is likely to think that juvenile detention is the ideal place for their child, the environment at a juvenile detention center will be geared toward minor children rather than adults. Ultimately, the goal of juvenile courts is to rehabilitate a child, whereas the primary purpose of the adult criminal justice system is to punish the offender for their crimes. Furthermore, juvenile records can be expunged at age 17 whereas it is much more difficult to expunge adult criminal records.

If your child is facing criminal charges in Milwaukee, it is vital that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, especially if you are concerned that your child may be tried as an adult. Parents should also understand how the state differentiates between juveniles of different ages when it comes to criminal offences and how those differences can also depend on the crime at issue.

17 Year Olds Are Automatically Tried as Adults

Wisconsin is one of nine states that sets the age of adult criminal accountability at age 17 rather than 18. This means that no matter what the crime, 17-year-old minors will automatically be tried as adults if charged with a crime in Wisconsin. There are no exceptions.

Although some state lawmakers have proposed changes to this law, arguing that juvenile offenders are better served by the juvenile justice system, thus far such efforts have been unsuccessful.

14-17 Year Olds May Be Tried as Adults

The court has some discretion when charging juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17. Depending on the crime, the prosecution can or will file what is called a petition for waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction or a juvenile waiver.

There are two kinds of juvenile waivers:

Mandatory Waivers

If a minor child under the age of 17 but over the age of 14 has been charged with battery within a detention center, has been charged with first-degree intentional or reckless homicide, or has a prior adult charge or conviction, the District Attorney will automatically charge them as an adult. However, even in these cases, a seasoned criminal defense attorney can advocate on behalf of your child to have their case returned to juvenile court.

Discretionary Waivers

For some crimes, the DA is permitted to exercise discretion on whether or not to request a waiver that will transfer a child from juvenile to adult court. If a child is over the age of 15, they can exercise this power for any crime. For a child who is 14, this discretionary power can only be used in relation to a few serious crimes. Regardless, a knowledgeable attorney can help create a strategy to persuade the court that your child should remain in juvenile court.

When 10 Year Olds Are Tried as Adults

This brings us back to the case first mentioned at the opening of this blog. Children over the age of 9 but under 14 must typically be tried as juveniles for most crimes, and children under the age of 9 cannot face criminal charges. However, according to Wisconsin Criminal Statute 938.183, if your child has had their 10th birthday and has been charged with first-degree intentional or reckless homicide or second-degree intentional homicide, they will automatically be charged as an adult in Wisconsin.

If your minor child is at risk of being tried as an adult, the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella understands what is at stake for your child. No matter what charges they might be facing, we can help defend your child’s rights and help protect their future.

Contact us online or call us at (414) 882-8382 to schedule a consultation.