Juvenile Justice 2020 Year-End Report


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Although many state legislative sessions were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some states did enact juvenile justice legislation. The focus of 2020 legislation was on enacting laws diverting young people from formal court processing, providing alternatives to detention, amending ages of juvenile court jurisdiction, addressing due process rights, sealing and expunging records and improving conditions of confinement. Many of the laws enacted in 2020 reflected the policies and principles laid out in NCSL’s publication Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy and in the Principles of Effective Juvenile Justice Policy Update released in 2020.

Diversion, Community Based Alternatives to Detention

Florida and Virginia enacted diversion legislation that helps young people avoid unnecessary involvement in the justice system. Florida now authorizes the Department of Juvenile Justice to contract with the PACE Center for Girls to provide diversion and detention alternatives to girls through education, counseling and training programs. Virginia passed legislation in 2020 to allow a juvenile court intake officer to defer filing a petition in a truancy case to develop and allow the young person to complete a truancy program.

Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Three states, Utah, Virginia and Vermont made statutory changes to the age of juvenile court jurisdiction.

Utah set a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction and the state now prohibits children younger than 12 (with a couple of exempted, more serious offenses) from being subject to delinquency proceedings. Additionally, Utah will have fewer young people tried in adult court because the state enacted legislation limiting the transfer of 16- and 17-year-olds to adult court to only the most serious offenses and only under a judge’s discretion.

Virginia increased from 14 years old to 16 years old the minimum for a young person to be tried as an adult for murder. Provisions in the law do however provide the Commonwealth’s attorney procedures to request a transfer hearing in some cases.

Vermont became the first state to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to older than 18. Starting in July 2020, most young people who are accused of committing criminal offenses at age 18 (with the exception of 12 more serious offenses) will be prosecuted in juvenile court. By July 2022, “most youth accused of breaking the law at age 19 will be similarly included in the juvenile justice system, making the 20th birthday the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state.”

Due Process Protections

Three states enacted laws increasing due process protections for young people when they are being interrogated by the police.

California now provides that all youth under age 18 have the right to consult with legal counsel prior to a custodial interrogation by law enforcement.

Virginia now gives a young person the right to have contact with their parent or guardian or legal counsel either in person, by telephone, or by video conference before a police interrogation.

To keep law enforcement personnel accountable, New York now requires the entire interrogation of a young person under age 18 to be recorded on video.

Detention and Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles

Nebraska and Oklahoma enacted new laws in 2020 that create certain protections for young people while in detention or confinement.

In Nebraska, solitary confinement longer than one hour must be documented and approved by the facility administrator. The detainee must be released “immediately upon regaining sufficient control so as to no longer engage in behavior that threatens substantial and immediate risk of harm to self or others.” Additionally, the facility must notify the child’s parents and attorney within one business day of the young person’s solitary confinement.

Additionally, the state also enacted LB 1148 which established procedural protections for young people who have been placed in a Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC). Specifically, it sets out a scheme of review hearings, including emergency review hearings where commitment can be reconsidered.

Oklahoma amended its law to prohibit children younger than 12 from being placed in detention unless “all alternatives have been exhausted and the child is currently charged with a criminal offense that would constitute a felony if committed by an adult and it has been indicated by a risk-assessment screening that the child requires detention.” The law also sets similar limits for 13- and 14-year-olds admitted to detention.

Reducing Collateral Consequences: Fines and Fees

Three states—New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana—enacted legislation aimed to reduce financial burdens on young people and families by limiting fines and fees.

As a part of a sweeping reform bill, New Jersey eliminated much of the juvenile court’s discretion in assessing fines and barred imposing a fine as a penalty during disposition (sentencing).

Maryland’s law repealed multiple statutory provisions that authorized the imposition of fines and fees and prohibited the assessment of attorney’s fees if the child’s attorney was appointed. The law went into effect in October 2020 and is retroactive, relieving young people and families from debt previously assessed.

In Louisiana, House Bill 417 now allows judges to waive costs and fees in juvenile cases for any reason.

Sealing and Expungement of Juvenile Records

At least four states made changes in 2020 to make it easier for juveniles to maintain confidentiality or to seal/expunge their records.

Michigan enacted the “Clean Slate for Kids” package of bills, (SB 681 and SB 682) in 2020. SB 681 established the automatic expungement of traffic records and some misdemeanor violations if the young person does not commit any more offenses in two years or until the young person turns 18. SB 682 provides that juvenile records are no longer public and only able to be viewed by certain law enforcement agencies.

North Carolina passed new expungement rules related to its Raise the Age legislation. The new law allows for a person or a prosecutor to file a petition of expungement with a $175 fee, for misdemeanors and H and I level felonies if the following conditions are met:

  • At the time of the offense the young person was 16 or 17 years old.
  • Any sentence or period of probation or supervision has been served.
  • All restitution has been paid. 

A few examples of H and I level felonies include credit card theft, larceny of property, possession of stolen goods and breaking and entering.

 Utah’s Juvenile Expungement Act, signed in May 2020 clarified procedures related to expungement of records. A young person can file a petition for expungement after they have turned 18 and at least one year has passed since the young person’s release from custody (or in the case of young people who were not in custody, at least one year has passed since the court had jurisdiction in the case). In deciding whether to grant the petition, the judge must “consider whether the rehabilitation of the petitioner has been attained to the satisfaction of the court, including the petitioner's response to programs and treatment, the petitioner's behavior subsequent to the adjudication, and the nature and seriousness of the conduct." The court may order all the petitioner’s records sealed if the young person has no pending cases, has not been convicted or a violent felony within the last five years and has paid restitution.

Washington took measures to streamline court procedures related to juvenile expungement. For example, the court now automatically schedules a sealing hearing for a person who was under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court who turns 18, and if the young person meets the statutory requirements for sealing a record, the court will grant it without a contested hearing. Previously, the process was more onerous with a possibility of multiple hearings.

Appendix List of 2020 Laws by State

Diversion, Alternatives to Detention and Risk Assessment Tools
Florida SB 1056, Virginia

Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
Utah HB 262, Utah HB 384, Virginia SB 546 Vermont SB 232

Conditions of Confinement for Juveniles
Nebraska LB 230, Nebraska LB 1148, Oklahoma HB 1282, Virginia HB 1544

Due Process Protections
California SB 203, Virginia HB 746 and New York SB 6533

Reducing Collateral Consequences: Fines and Fees
New Jersey SB 48 (2019), Maryland HB 36, Louisiana HB 417

Sealing and Expungement of Records
Michigan SB 681, Michigan SB 682, North Carolina SB 562, Utah HB 397, Washington HB 2794