State juvenile courts with delinquency jurisdiction handle cases in which juveniles are accused of acts that would be crimes if adults committed them.
In 44 states, the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is age 17. In 2020, Vermont became the first state in the nation to expand juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. Three states-- Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin--now draw the juvenile/adult line at age 16. Missouri raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 17 in 2018 and the law will go into effect January 1, 2021. Michigan raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17 in 2019 and that law too, will go into effect in 2021.
However, all states have transfer laws that allow or require young offenders to be prosecuted as adults for more serious offenses, regardless of their age. Four forms of transfer laws are:
- Statutory Exclusion - State law excludes some classes of cases involving juvenile age offenders from juvenile court, granting adult criminal court exclusive jurisdiction over some types of offenses. Murder and serious violent felony cases are most commonly "excluded" from juvenile court.
- Judicially Controlled Transfer - All cases against juveniles begin in juvenile court and must literally be transferred by the juvenile court to the adult court.
- Prosecutorial Discretion Transfer - Some categories of cases have both juvenile and criminal jurisdiction, so prosecutors may choose to file in either the juvenile or adult court. The choice is considered to be within the prosecutor's executive discretion.
- "Once and adult, always an adult" Transfer - The law requires prosecution in the adult court of any juvenile who has been criminally prosecuted in the past, usually regardless of whether the current offense is serious or not.
NCSL Juvenile Justice Resources