juvenile justice
homefour casesfrom both sidesfacts & stats
state laws

One of the first actions taken during the juvenile court process is determining whether a case should be processed in the criminal justice system rather than in juvenile court. All states have in place judicial mechanisms through which certain juvenile offenders may be tried as adults in the criminal system. These "transfer" provisions fall into three general categories, depending on where the responsibility for the decision lies.

Judicial Waiver

In most States, cases referred to juvenile court that meet certain criteria may be transferred to criminal court upon the authorization of the juvenile court judge. This mechanism is known as "judicial waiver," since the judge is "waiving" the juvenile court's jurisdiction and giving the case over to the criminal system.

Almost every state has statutory judicial waiver provisions which grant juvenile judges the authority to transfer juvenile offenders out of the juvenile system. Depending on the state, this authority is granted with varying degrees of flexibility. In some cases, the decision to transfer is left entirely to the judge's discretion. In others, there is a presumption in favor of transfer which can be rebutted by the child's attorney. In some, transfer is mandatory once the judge determines that certain criteria have been met.

The terminology for judicial waiver also varies from state to state; some call it "certification," "remand," or "bind over" for criminal prosecution. In any case, it is the most common statutory mechanism for trying juveniles in criminal court.

Statutory Exclusion

Most states have more than one mechanism for trying juveniles to adult court. An increasing number exclude by statute certain serious or violent crimes from juvenile court court jurisdiction, providing the offender meets a minimum age requirement. This effectively mandates the transfer of juveniles who commit those offences to adult criminal court. Many states also exclude repeat juvenile offenders from the juvenile system. In 1997, 28 states had such provisions.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

In some states, a combination of the youth's age, offense, and prior record places certain juvenile offenders under the jurisdiction of both the juvenile and criminal courts. In these situations where the courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the prosecutor is given the authority to decide which court will initially handle the case. Transfer under these circumstances is known as "prosecutorial waiver."

Age Restrictions

In 1997, 22 states had provisions for transferring juveniles to criminal court which did not specify a minimum age. For those that did specify a minimum age, the most common (16 states) was age 14. Two states, Kansas and Vermont, set the minimum age as low as 10. In many states, once a juvenile is tried and convicted as an adult, he or she must be prosecuted in criminal court for any subsequent offenses.

STATE BY STATE WAIVER LAWS (by offense and minimum age)

In most States, no minimum age is specified in at least one judicial waiver, concurrent jurisdiction, or statutory exclusion provision for transferring juveniles to criminal court

Minimum transfer age indicated in section(s) of juvenile code specifying transfer provisions, 1997

No Minimum Age 10 12 13 14 15
Alaska
Arizona
Delaware
Dist. of Columbia
Florida
Georgia*
Hawaii
Idaho*
Indiana
Maine
Maryland
Nebraska
Nevada*
Oklahoma*
Oregon*
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Washington*
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Kansas
Vermont
Colorado
Missouri
Montana
Illinois
Mississippi
New Hampshire
New York
North Carolina
Wyoming
Alabama
Arkansas
California
Connecticut
Iowa
Kentucky
Louisiana
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
New Jersey
North Dakota
Ohio
Texas
Utah
Virginia
New Mexico

*Other sections of State statute specify an age below which children cannot be tried in criminal court. This minimum age for criminal responsibility is 14 in Idaho, 12 in Georgia, 8 in Nevada and Washington, and 7 in Oklahoma. In Washington, 8- to 12-year-olds are presumed to be in-capable of committing a crime. In Oklahoma, in cases involving 7- to 14-year-olds, the State must prove that at the time of the act, the child knew it was wrong.

Source: Authors' adaptation of Griffin et al.'s Trying juveniles as adults in criminal court: An analysis of State transfer provisions.



Trends

Traditionally, discretionary judicial waiver was the most common means for juveniles to be transferred into the adult system. Each case was examined on an individual basis, with the judge taking into consideration such factors as the juvenile's likelihood of rehabilitation, his or her background, and the circumstances of the offense. Increasingly, however, state legislatures are removing this judicial discretion from the system by enacting mandatory waiver or exclusion statutes which eliminate the case-specific consideration of the discretionary waiver system.

The number of juvenile cases waived into adult criminal court peaked in 1994 when 11,700 cases were transferred. In 1997, this number was down to 8400.



manny · shawn · marquese · jose
from both sides of the bench · facts & stats · related report: little criminals
discussion · synopsis · press · tapes & transcripts · credits
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS