2014 Juvenile Justice State Legislation

Anne Teigen 1/19/2015

State juvenile justice legislation in 2014 focused on a juvenile’s right to counsel, changing waiver and transfer laws, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, juvenile life sentences, status offenses and the sealing and expungement of records.   

Omnibus Legislation

Two states passed sweeping juvenile justice legislation in 2014.

Kansas reformed many aspects of the state’s juvenile justice system in 2014. A new law enables county or district attorneys to petition for misdemeanor-level juvenile offenders to be diverted from formal court processes.  It also prevents juveniles who commit minor offenses from being placed in a juvenile detention facility and prevents all youth under 12 years of age from being prosecuted as adults.   Additionally, the new law ends the practice of detaining status offenders for contempt of court and incorporates a state-wide risk assessment into pre-sentence investigations.

Kentucky’s law requires data collection to better study juvenile recidivism,  improves funding for evidence-based programming and requires the development of a risk and needs assessment tool. Also, it changes how the state addresses status offenders and creates the juvenile justice oversight counsel to manage the implementation of reforms.

Right to Counsel

Colorado created the right to counsel at juvenile detention hearings and first court appearances.  The law also states that before a juvenile can waive the right to counsel, the court must determine that the juvenile has a sufficient maturity level to do so, understands the sentencing options in the case, has not been coerced to waive counsel and that counsel may be provided to him or her if unaffordable.

Utah passed legislation providing counsel for indigent defendants at every stage of the proceedings.


Transfer, Waiver and Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

New Hampshire legislature raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18. The law, which takes effect July 1, 2015, prevents most 17-year-old offenders from having an adult criminal record or from being sent to state prison.

Maryland passed two laws that repeal mandatory youth transfer provisions and restore juvenile jurisdiction to the juvenile court. The laws give judges more discretion to determine whether a young person is tried as a youth or an adult, allowing judges to take into account factors like age, physical and mental health, and possibilities for treatment and rehabilitation. The law does retain exceptions for some serious violent crimes.

Nebraska law now requires that all criminal charges pressed against youth aged 18 and younger would have to be filed in a juvenile court. The case can be transferred up to adult court only after a juvenile hearing and a prosecutor’s motion.


Miller vs. Alabama and Juvenile Life without Parole

Many states considered, and at least four states passed, legislation relating to juvenile life without parole.

Hawaii abolished life imprisonment without parole as a sentencing option for offenders under 18, and now limits the minimum term of incarceration required before eligibility for parole for persons who were sentenced for an offense committed while they were under age 18.

Massachusetts now provides that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder may be eligible for parole after 20 to 30 years, depending on the severity of the crime committed.

Michigan eliminated mandatory juvenile life without parole for juveniles and instead now requires that prosecutors file a motion indicating intent to a seek life-without-parole sentence for juveniles convicted of certain crimes. The court must then consider the factors listed in Miller, as well as any other factors the court deems relevant. If the court determines life without parole is not appropriate, the law requires the maximum sentence be at least 60 years and the minimum be between 25 and 40 years.

In West Virginia, juvenile life-without-parole was eliminated and juvenile offenders are now eligible for parole after 15 years.


Sealing/Expungement of Juvenile Records

Minnesota law clarifies that records related to juvenile delinquency—not just an order of adjudication—can be expunged if it would yield a benefit to the individual that outweighs detriment to public safety.

Iowa now provides that the court schedule a hearing to seal a juvenile’s record two years after the date of the last official action of the delinquency case or when the child becomes 18.

Washington’s new law requires the court to hold regular hearings to seal juvenile court records.  Hearings must be set if the sealing of the records is contested.  In addition, it requires law enforcement agencies to automatically seal or destroy records within 90 days. This law restricts access to most juvenile records, except the worst felony offenses, such as violent crimes and sexual assaults.

Appendix: List of 2014 Laws by State

  • Omnibus Legislation Kansas HB 2588, Kentucky SB 200
  • Right to Counsel Colorado HB 1032, Utah SB 221
  • Transfer/Waiver and Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction New Hampshire HB 1624, Maryland HB 1295, Maryland SB 515, Nebraska LB 464
  • Miller vs. Alabama and Juvenile Life without Parole Hawaii HB 2116, Massachusetts HB 4307, Michigan SB 319, West Virginia HB 4210
  • Sealing and Expungement of Records Minnesota HB 392, Iowa SB 383, Washington HB 1651