All states allow juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court under certain circumstances

Transferring juveniles to criminal court is not a new phenomenon

In some states, provisions that enabled transfer of certain juveniles to criminal court were in place before the 1920s. Other states have permitted transfers since at least the 1940s. For many years, all states have had at least one provision for trying certain youth of juvenile age as adults in criminal court. Such provisions are typically limited by age and offense criteria. Transfer mechanisms vary regarding where the responsibility for transfer decisionmaking lies. Transfer provisions fall into three general categories:

Judicial waiver: The juvenile court judge has the authority to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and transfer the case to criminal court. States may use terms other than judicial waiver. Some call the process certification, remand, or bind over for criminal prosecution. Others transfer or decline rather than waive jurisdiction.

Concurrent jurisdiction: Original jurisdiction for certain cases is shared by both criminal and juvenile courts, and the prosecutor has discretion to file such cases in either court. Transfer under concurrent jurisdiction provisions is also known as prosecutorial waiver, prosecutor discretion, or direct file.

Statutory exclusion: State statute excludes certain juvenile offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction. Under statutory exclusion provisions, cases originate in criminal rather than juvenile court. Statutory exclusion is also known as legislative exclusion.

Most states have multiple ways to impose adult sanctions on juveniles

    Statutes at the end of the 1999 legislative session
Judicial waiver
Concurrent jurisdiction Statutory exclusion Reverse waiver Once an adult, always an adult Blended sentencing  
  State Discretionary Presumptive Mandatory
 
 
  Total States 46 16 15 15 29 24 34 22  
  Alabama
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Alaska
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
      Arizona
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Arkansas
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      California
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Colorado
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Connecticut    
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Delaware
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Dist. of Columbia
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •    
      Florida
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Georgia
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
      Hawaii
  •  
  •          
  •  
  •    
      Idaho
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Illinois
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Indiana
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Iowa
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Kansas
  •  
  •  
  •        
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Kentucky
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •      
      Louisiana
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •        
      Maine
  •  
  •  
  •        
  •  
  •    
      Maryland
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Massachusetts      
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
      Michigan
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Minnesota
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Mississippi
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Missouri
  •  
  •          
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Montana
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
      Nebraska      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
      Nevada
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      New Hampshire
  •  
  •  
  •        
  •  
  •    
      New Jersey
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •            
      New Mexico        
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
      New York        
  •  
  •  
  •      
      North Carolina
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •    
      North Dakota
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •    
      Ohio
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •    
      Oklahoma
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Oregon
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Pennsylvania
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Rhode Island
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
      South Carolina
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      South Dakota
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Tennessee
  •  
  •        
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Texas
  •  
  •          
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Utah
  •  
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Vermont
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Virginia
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
      Washington
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      West Virginia
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •        
  •  
  •  
      Wisconsin
  •  
  •      
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •    
      Wyoming
  •  
  •    
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •      
     
    • In states with a combination of provisions for transferring juveniles to criminal court, the exclusion, mandatory waiver, or concurrent jurisdiction provisions generally target the oldest juveniles and/or those charged with the most serious offenses, while those charged with relatively less serious offenses and/or younger juveniles may be eligible for discretionary waiver.

    Source: Author’s adaptation of Griffin’s State Juvenile Justice Profiles.
     

    Nearly all states have expanded their transfer provisions recently

    Traditionally, discretionary judicial waiver was the transfer mechanism on which most states relied. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing through the present, however, state legislatures have increasingly moved juvenile offenders into criminal court based on age and/or offense seriousness, without the case-specific consideration offered by the discretionary juvenile court judicial waiver process.

    State transfer provisions changed extensively in the 1990s. From 1992 through 1999, 49 states and the District of Columbia enacted or expanded their transfer provisions. Nebraska was the only exception. An increasing number of state legislatures have enacted mandatory waiver or exclusion statutes. Less common, then and now, are concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

    Criminal courts may send transferred cases to juvenile court

    Several states have provisions for sending transferred cases from criminal to juvenile court for adjudication under certain circumstances. This procedure, sometimes referred to as “reverse waiver,” generally applies to cases initiated in criminal court under statutory exclusion or concurrent jurisdiction provisions. Of the 36 states with such provisions at the end of the 1999 legislative session, 21 also have provisions that allow certain transferred juveniles to petition for a “reverse.” Reverse decision criteria often parallel a state’s discretionary waiver criteria. In some states, transfers convicted in criminal court may be reversed to juvenile court for disposition.

    Most states have “once an adult, always an adult” provisions

    In 34 states, juveniles who have been tried as adults must be prosecuted in criminal court for any subsequent offenses. Nearly all of these “once an adult, always an adult” provisions require that the youth must have been convicted of the offenses that triggered the initial criminal prosecution.

    Laws in 22 states allow blended sentencing

    Blended sentencing statutes allow courts to impose juvenile and/or adult correctional sanctions on certain young offenders. In some states, blended sentencing authority lies with the juvenile court, in others with the criminal court.

    Blended sentencing authority specified by statute, 1999:

    Court State

    Juvenile Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas
    Criminal Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia

    Blended sentencing has been referred to as a “middle ground” between traditional juvenile and adult sanctions. Judges have flexibility to choose from a broader array of punishments. In some states, the adult sanction may be suspended but can be reinstated if the terms of the juvenile sanction are violated. A blended sentence, therefore, is seen as one last chance for the juvenile to avoid adult sanctions.

    Judicial waiver remains the most common transfer provision

    In the District of Columbia and all states except Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York, juvenile court judges may waive jurisdiction over certain cases and transfer them to criminal court. Such action is usually in response to a request by the prosecutor; in several states, however, juveniles or their parents may request judicial waiver. In most states, laws limit waiver by age and offense.

    Waiver provisions vary in terms of the degree of decisionmaking flexibility allowed. The decision may be entirely discretionary, there may be a rebuttable presumption in favor of waiver, or waiver may be mandatory. Some provisions mandate that waiver is required once the juvenile court judge determines that certain statutory criteria have been met. Mandatory waiver provisions are distinguished from statutory exclusion provisions in that the case originates in juvenile rather than criminal court.

    Statutes establish waiver criteria other than age and offense

    In some states, waiver provisions target youth charged with offenses involving firearms or other weapons. Most state statutes also limit judicial waiver to juveniles who are “no longer amenable to treatment.” The specific factors that determine lack of amenability vary, but they typically include the juvenile’s offense history and previous dispositional outcomes. Such amenability criteria are generally not included in statutory exclusion or concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

    Many statutes instruct juvenile courts to consider other factors when making waiver decisions, such as the availability of dispositional alternatives for treating the juvenile, the time available for sanctions, public safety, and the best interest of the child. The waiver process must also adhere to certain constitutional principles of due process.

    Transfer decisionmaking has changed

    Studies of transfer in the 1990s found that, independent of law changes, waiver decisions have changed. One Pennsylvania study found that waiver was more likely for youth in 1994 than for youth in 1986. Although Pennsylvania’s waiver law did not change, the waiver criteria seemed to change. Analysis showed that both the 1986 and 1994 groups had similar numbers of prior adjudications and residential placements. However, juveniles with cases waived in 1994 had gone through the court’s full range of sanctions with less serious offense histories than youth with cases waived in 1986.

    Two other studies focused on cases judicially waived in South Carolina and in Utah in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Analyses found that juvenile court judges granted most waiver requests. Overall, judges approved approximately 8 out of 10 waiver requests made by prosecutors. In South Carolina, the proportion of waiver requests granted rose from about 70% in the mid-1980s to 96% in 1994.

    Two factors distinguished cases that judges waived from those not waived: the seriousness of the juvenile’s crime and the extent of his or her court history. The cases most likely to be waived, regardless of the offenders’ court history, involved serious person offenders who used weapons and injured someone. Even first-time offenders were waived if they injured their victim. For other cases, the court took into account the youth’s history; those with longer histories were more likely to be waived. This coincides closely with the waiver criteria outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kent decision. The Court stated that, “An offense . . . will be waived if . . . it is heinous or of an aggravated character, or—even though less serious—if it represents a pattern of repeated offenses. . . .”

    In most states, juvenile court judges may waive juvenile court jurisdiction over certain cases and transfer them to criminal court
      State Minimum judicial waiver Judicial waiver offense and minimum age criteria, 1999
    Any criminal offense Certain felonies Capital crimes Murder Certain person offenses Certain property offenses Certain drug offenses Certain weapon offenses  
     
     
      Alabama 14 14                
      Alaska NS NS       NS        
      Arizona NS   NS              
      Arkansas 14   14 14 14 14     14  
      California 14 16 16   14 14 14 14    
      Colorado 12   12   12 12        
      Connecticut 14   14 14 14          
      Delaware NS NS 15   NS NS 16 16    
      Dist. of Columbia NS 16 15   15 15 15   NS  
      Florida 14 14                
      Georgia 13 15   13 14 14 15      
      Hawaii NS   14   NS          
      Idaho NS 14 NS   NS NS NS NS    
      Illinois 13 13 15              
      Indiana NS 14 NS   10     16    
      Iowa 14 14 15              
      Kansas 10 10 14     14   14    
      Kentucky 14   14 14            
      Louisiana 14       14 14        
      Maine NS   NS   NS NS        
      Maryland NS 15   NS            
      Michigan 14   14              
      Minnesota 14   14              
      Mississippi 13 13                
      Missouri 12   12              
      Montana NS NS                
      Nevada 14 14 14     14        
      New Hampshire 13   15   13 13   15    
      New Jersey 14 14 14   14 14 14 14 14  
      North Carolina 13   13 13            
      North Dakota 14 16 14   14 14   14    
      Ohio 14   14   14 16 16      
      Oklahoma NS   NS              
      Oregon NS   15   NS NS 15      
      Pennsylvania 14   14     15 15      
      Rhode Island NS   16 NS   17 17      
      South Carolina NS 16 14   NS NS   14 14  
      South Dakota NS   NS              
      Tennessee NS 16     NS NS        
      Texas 14   14 14       14    
      Utah 14   14   16 16 16   16  
      Vermont 10       10 10 10      
      Virginia 14   14   14 14        
      Washington NS NS                
      West Virginia NS   NS   NS NS NS NS    
      Wisconsin 14 15 14   14 14 14 14    
      Wyoming 13 13                
     
    Note: Ages in the minimum age column may not apply to all offense restrictions but represent the youngest possible age at which a juvenile may be judicially waived to criminal court. “NS” indicates that in at least one of the offense restrictions indicated, no minimum age is specified.

    Examples: Alabama allows waiver for juveniles age 14 or older charged with any criminal offense. Maryland allows waiver for any juvenile charged with a capital crime (an act punishable by death or life imprisonment) and for juveniles age 15 or older charged with any criminal offense.

    Source: Author’s adaptation of Griffin’s State Juvenile Justice Profiles.

     

    Few states allow prosecutorial discretion

    At the end of the 1999 legislative session, 15 states had concurrent jurisdiction provisions, which gave both juvenile court and criminal court original jurisdiction in certain cases. Under such provisions, prosecutors have discretion to file eligible cases in either court.

    Concurrent jurisdiction is typically limited by age and offense criteria. Often concurrent jurisdiction is limited to cases involving violent or repeat crimes or offenses involving firearms or other weapons. Juvenile and criminal courts often also share jurisdiction over minor offenses such as traffic, watercraft, or local ordinance violations.

    No national data exist on the number of juvenile cases tried in criminal court under concurrent jurisdiction provisions. In Florida, which has a fairly broad concurrent jurisdiction provision, prosecutors sent more than 4,000 youth to criminal court in fiscal year 1998–99. In comparison, juvenile court judges nationwide waived an estimated 8,100 cases to criminal court in 1998.

    State appellate courts have taken the view that prosecutorial discretion is equivalent to the routine charging decisions prosecutors make in criminal cases. Thus, prosecutorial transfer is considered an executive function, which is not subject to judicial review and is not required to meet the due process standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some states, however, do have written guidelines for prosecutorial transfer.

    In states with concurrent jurisdiction, the prosecutor has discretion to
    file certain cases in either criminal court or juvenile court
         
    Concurrent jurisdiction offense and minimum age criteria, 1999

      State Minimum age for concurrent jurisdiction Any criminal offense Certain felonies Capital crimes Murder Certain person offenses Certain property offenses Certain drug offenses Certain weapon offenses  
     
     
      Arizona 14   14              
      Arkansas 14   16 14 14 14        
      Colorado 14   14   14 14 14   14  
      Dist. of Columbia         16 16 16      
      Florida NS 16   NS 14 14 14   14  
      Georgia NS     NS            
      Louisiana 15       15 15 15 15    
      Massachusetts 14   14     14     14  
      Michigan 14   14   14 14 14 14    
      Montana 12       12 12 16 16 16  
      Nebraska NS 16 NS              
      Oklahoma 15       15 15 15 16 15  
      Vermont 16 16                
      Virginia 14       14 14        
      Wyoming 14   14              
     
    Note: Ages in the minimum age column may not apply to all offense restrictions but represent the youngest possible age at which a juvenile may be filed directly in criminal court. “NS” indicates that in at least one of the offense restrictions indicated, no minimum age is specified.

    Examples: In Arizona, prosecutors have discretion to file directly in criminal court those cases involving juveniles age 14 or older charged with certain felonies (defined by state statutes). In Florida, prosecutors may “direct file” cases involving juveniles age 16 or older charged with a misdemeanor (if they have a prior adjudication) or a felony offense and those age 14 or older charged with murder or certain person, property, or weapon offenses; no minimum age is specified for cases in which a grand jury indicts a juvenile for a capital offense (punishable by death or life imprisonment).

    Source: Author’s adaptation of Griffin’s State Juvenile Justice Profiles.

     

    In most states, laws allow transfer of certain very young offenders

    At the end of the 1999 legislative session, in 23 states and the District of Columbia, no minimum age was specified in at least one judicial waiver, concurrent jurisdiction, or statutory exclusion provision for transferring juveniles to criminal court. For example, Pennsylvania’s murder exclusion has no minimum age specified. Other transfer provisions in Pennsylvania have age minimums set at 14 or 15. Among states where statutes specify age limits for all transfer provisions, age 14 is the most common minimum age specified across provisions.

    Minimum transfer age specified in statute:

    Age State

    None Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin
    10 Kansas and Vermont
    12 Colorado and Missouri
    13 Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and Wyoming
    14 Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia
    15 New Mexico

    Statutory exclusion accounts for the largest number of transfers

    Legislatures “transfer” large numbers of young offenders to criminal court by enacting statutes that exclude certain cases from juvenile court jurisdiction. At the end of the 1999 legislative session, 29 states had statutory exclusion provisions. State laws typically set age and offense limits for excluded offenses. The offenses most often excluded are murder, capital crimes in general (offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment), and other serious offenses against persons. (Minor offenses such as traffic, watercraft, and wildlife violations are often excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction in states where they are not covered by concurrent jurisdiction provisions.)

    Although not typically thought of as transfers, large numbers of youth younger than age 18 are tried in criminal court in the 13 states where the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction is set at 15 or 16. Nearly 2 million 16- and 17-year-olds live in these 13 states. If these youth are referred to criminal court at the same rate that 16- and 17-year-olds elsewhere are referred to juvenile court, then a large number of youth younger than age 18 face trial in criminal court because they are defined as adults under state laws. In fact, it is possible that more youth younger than age 18 are tried in criminal court in this way than by all other transfer mechanisms combined.

    In states with statutory exclusion provisions, certain cases involving
    juveniles originate in criminal court rather than juvenile court
      State Minimum age for statutory exclusion Statutory exclusion offense and minimum age criteria, 1999
    Any criminal offense Certain felonies Capital crimes Murder Certain person offenses Certain property offenses Certain drug offenses Certain weapon offenses  
     
     
      Alabama 16   16 16       16    
      Alaska 16         16 16      
      Arizona 15   15   15 15        
      California 16     16 16 16        
      Delaware 15   15              
      Florida NS NS       NS        
      Georgia 13       13 13        
      Idaho 14       14 14 14 14    
      Illinois 13   15   13 15   15 15  
      Indiana 16   16   16 16   16 16  
      Iowa 16   16         16 16  
      Louisiana 15       15 15        
      Maryland 14     14 16 16     16  
      Massachusetts 14       14          
      Minnesota 16       16          
      Mississippi 13   13 13            
      Montana 17       17 17 17 17 17  
      Nevada NS 16 NS   NS 16        
      New Mexico 15       15          
      New York 13       13 14 14   14  
      Oklahoma 13       13          
      Oregon 15       15 15        
      Pennsylvania NS       NS 15        
      South Carolina 16   16              
      South Dakota 16   16              
      Utah 16   16   16          
      Vermont 14       14 14 14      
      Washington 16       16 16 16      
      Wisconsin NS       10 NS        
      Note: Ages in the minimum age column may not apply to all offense restrictions but represent the youngest possible age at which a juvenile may be excluded from juvenile court. “NS” indicates that in at least one of the offense restrictions indicated, no minimum age is specified.

    Examples: In California, cases involving juveniles age 16 or older charged with capital crimes (punishable by death or life imprisonment), murder, or certain other person offenses must be filed in criminal court. In Delaware, cases involving juveniles age 15 or older charged with certain felonies must be initiated in criminal court.

    Source: Author’s adaptation of Griffin’s State Juvenile Justice Profiles.

     



    Previous Contents Next



    Juveniles in Court OJJDP National Report Series Bulletin
    June 2003