Juvenile Justice 2017 Year-End Report


State juvenile justice legislation in 2017 focused on broad, sweeping reform measures, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, sealing and expungement of juvenile records, addressing due process and rights of juveniles, and limiting the use of restraints and solitary confinement.

Comprehensive Reform

Utah passed a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill in 2017 with broad, bipartisan support. The new law establishes standards and criteria for pre-court diversion, caps fines and fees, limits school-based court referrals, and sets limits on the amount of time youth can spend in detention centers and under probation. It also establishes statutory standards for which youth may be removed from their homes and redirects cost savings toward expanding effective community-based services to all court districts in the state. HB 239 is projected to reduce the number of youth placed in state custody for delinquency or status offenses by 47 percent from projected custody levels, and free up more than $70 million in state funds from reductions in operating costs and savings from out-of-home placement contracts for reinvestment into evidence-based programs.

Restoring Jurisdiction to the Juvenile Justice System

In 2017, New York and North Carolina raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. These were the last two states in the country that automatically charged 16-year-olds as adults, no matter the crime.

The New York legislation provides that 16-year-olds charged with a crime will no longer automatically be prosecuted as adults after October 2018. A year later, 17-year-olds will no longer automatically be prosecuted as adults, with that decision left to a judge in felony cases.

Beginning in 2019, under North Carolina’s law, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors and many felonies will automatically have their cases originate in juvenile court. The law creates an exception for Class G felonies including arson, burglary, possession of a firearm by a felon and some drug sales crimes.

Sealing and Expungement of Juvenile Records

At least seven states made significant changes in 2017 to automatically expunge or make it easier for juveniles to seal or expunge their records.

Illinois passed a law automatically expunging arrest records that do not result in delinquency, as well as records for other offenses after a certain amount of time has passed. Certain offenses such as sexual crimes and serious and violent crimes are excluded from expungement eligibility. The new law also restricts the ability for juvenile records to be shared with the public.

Texas also passed legislation requiring the automatic sealing of records and expungement of misdemeanor records if the young person reaches age 19 and has no pending juvenile or adult cases or convictions.

California modified the lifetime ban on sealing a juvenile offense record involving a specified serious or violent offense committed when the juvenile was 14 years of age or older. The new law now permits the person to petition for record-sealing under certain circumstances. The law provides an exception and notes that a record that has been sealed pursuant to the sealing by petition process may be accessed, inspected, or utilized in a subsequent proceeding in certain circumstances.

Colorado law now requires courts to immediately expunge juvenile records upon dismissing a case, a not guilty verdict, or after a juvenile completes a sentence for a petty offense or misdemeanor, as long as the crime does not require victim notification and is not a sex or domestic violence offense. The court is also now required to notify the juvenile of the right to expungement and allows only certain records to be made public after a child is charged as an adult.

Delaware modified its discretionary expungement provisions to allow more children, and adults with only juvenile records, the ability to petition the court for an expungement. The bill removed certain prohibitions that prevented individuals from ever seeking a discretionary expungement or streamlined eligibility for expungement. It also creates a catch-all provision for those seeking an expungement to their juvenile record in cases where they were found delinquent in multiple cases, but had not been adjudicated or convicted of another crime since. The court can now consider an expungement where a person with a juvenile record has demonstrated rehabilitation.

Tennessee amended its laws to provide more notice to young people about expungement. The new law requires the court to inform a child of the need to petition the court for expunction of a juvenile record. The bill requires the administrative office of the courts to create and distribute an expunction petition form, and to send notice of the right to petition for expunction to a child when the child turns 17.

Louisiana made several changes to its statutes regarding the sealing and expungement of juvenile records. Young people can now expunge a charge at any time if it did not result in an adjudication. Prostitution and other related charges are now expungable at any time even if there was an adjudication. If a juvenile has an adjudication for murder, manslaughter, a sex offense requiring registration as an offender, kidnapping, or armed robbery, they may still be able to expunge and seal their record if at least five years have passed since their last juvenile case was closed or dismissed, and they have no pending indictments in adult court, adult court felony convictions, or adult court misdemeanor criminal convictions involving a firearm.

Due Process Rights and Defense Reform

Oregon, California and Delaware enacted laws that increase due process protections for juveniles and provide access to quality defense counsel.

Oregon now requires appointment of counsel for juveniles for misdemeanors, felonies and probation proceedings. Young offenders may waive counsel if they are at least 16 and have met with counsel who has advised them about their rights to counsel, and a written waiver signed by the young person and counsel is signed and submitted to court. A hearing is then held for the court to find the young person has knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his or her right to counsel.

Another Oregon bill passed in 2017 that requires police to record any custodial interview of a person under 18 in a felony investigation. However, the court does not have to exclude the young person’s statement or dismiss criminal charges as a result of a violation.

California now requires young people age 15 and younger to consult with legal counsel (either in-person, by telephone or by video conference) prior to a custodial interrogation and before waiving any Miranda rights.

In 2017, Delaware codified a juvenile’s right to counsel in all stages of delinquency proceedings and prohibits a waiver or counsel if the juvenile is under age 16, if the juvenile is accused of a felony, if the juvenile is in custody of the Division of Family Services, or if the victim of the alleged act is a family member or guardian of the juvenile and has an adverse interest to the juvenile.

Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles

New Hampshire and Oregon enacted legislation limiting the circumstances in which juveniles are required to wear restraints, such as shackles, or be detained in solitary confinement.

New Hampshire enacted a law in 2017 that prohibits the indiscriminate use of handcuffs and shackles on minors while they are in court.

Oregon passed a similar measure, which specifically states that restraints may not be used as punishment, for convenience or as a substitute for staff supervision. An exception is provided if the court finds that the use of restraints is necessary due to an immediate and serious risk of dangerous or disruptive behavior and there are no less restrictive alternatives that will alleviate the risks. Oregon also now prohibits the incarceration of youth under 18 in adult prisons “under any circumstances.” Additionally, Oregon codified state policy that prohibits young people in custody of the Oregon Youth Authority from being held alone in a locked room as a form of punishment.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

New Jersey became the fifth state to pass a racial and ethnic impact statement bill. The law requires policymakers to consider the racial and ethnic impact of criminal and juvenile justice policies.

Appendix: List of 2017 Laws by State

Comprehensive Legislation
  • Utah HB 239
Raising the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
  • New York AB 3009-C, North Carolina SB 257
Sealing and Expungement of Records
  • Illinois HB 3817, Texas SB 1304, California SB 312, Colorado HB 1204, Delaware SB 54, Tennessee HB 577, Louisiana HB 506
Due Process and Defense Reform 
  • Oregon HB 2616, Oregon California SB 395, Delaware HB 6,
Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles
  • New Hampshire HB 397, Oregon SB 846, Oregon SB 82, Oregon HB 251,
Racial and Ethnic Disparities
  • New Jersey SB 677