Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
AGE OF MAJORITY
The Juvenile Court Act defines “juveniles” as persons from 14 to 18 years of age. The relevant date is the time the alleged offender committed the crime.
Children not yet 14 years of age are not criminally responsible. Their offences are not sanctioned by criminal reactions. They can only be subject to measures mentioned in the Federal Child- and Youth-Welfare Act 2013 (Bundes-Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz 2013—B-KJHG 2013), such as institutional care. In this cases the youth welfare authorities, and not criminal courts, are responsible.
When the juveniles turn 14 years old, criminal majority begins and the juvenile will be held culpable under the Juvenile Court Act, whereby the youngest aged 14-15 years are granted immunity from punishment for misdemeanours in cases of delayed maturity (see below p. 234).
Persons between 18 and 21 years of age, the so-called “young adults”, are also addressees of the Juvenile Court Act, because most of the special procedures (Schroll 2002), and since late 2015 also some substantive regulations, of the
Juvenile Court Act are applicable to this age group (AG “Jugend im Recht” 2012; see below pp. 228, 231, 234).
In former years the full criminal majority started at the age of 19. An amendment in 2001 changed the age of civil majority from 19 to 18 years in the General Civil Code (Allgemeines Burgerliches Gesetzbuch). For this amendment it was argued that the 1988 reform had granted access to the more flexible and milder juvenile justice system to an age group commonly associated with a great deal of criminality. As limited compensation for this move, certain new regulations of procedure were introduced for “young adults”, i.e. persons from 18 to 20 years. This legislation recognized that crime levels in this age group can rise temporarily, due to the difficulties associated with the adjustment to adulthood. Experts’ demands for including an extended age group into the group of “young adults” (Miklau 2002; Jesionek 2003), all adults younger than 25 specifically, have not been met by the legislator due to political and public oppositions.
Only some regulations on the enforcement of imprisonment—and only in exceptional cases—are applicable to persons up to the age of 27.
Hence the Austrian juvenile justice system follows a graded concept of criminal responsibility. In every single case the judge, in some constellations also the prosecutor, can decide in the best interest of the child or the young adult.
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