In all States, juveniles can be transferred to criminal court -- most have multiple transfer mechanisms

Transferring juveniles to criminal court is not a new phenomenon

In ten States provisions that enabled juveniles to be transferred to criminal court were in place before the 1920's. Another ten States have permitted transfers since at least the 1940's. For many years, all States have had provisions for trying certain youth of juvenile age as adults in criminal court. Transfer provisions fall into three general categories:

  • Judicial waiver: Juvenile court judge has the authority to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and transfer the case to criminal court.

  • Prosecutor discretion: Prosecutor has discretion to file in criminal or juvenile court under concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

  • Legislative (statutory) exclusion: State statute excludes certain juvenile offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction.

Transfer mechanisms are typically limited by age and offense criteria. Judicial waiver provisions are also limited to juveniles who are "no longer amenable to treatment." Such "amenability" criteria are generally not included in exclusion or concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

Juvenile court proceedings and records are more open as provisions reduce confidentiality

Between 1985 and 1995 legislatures made significant changes in how information about juvenile offenders is treated by the justice system -- often in tandem with changes in jurisdictional authority. At year-end 1995 --

  • 22 States have open hearings for certain cases (10 are new or modified laws).

  • 39 States permit release of certain juveniles' names and/or photos (11 are new or modified laws).

  • 18 States prohibit sealing or expunging certain juvenile court records (8 are new or modified laws).

  • 45 States allow release of juvenile court records to certain types of people -- prosecution, law enforcement, social agencies, schools, the victim, or the public (21 are new or modified laws).

  • 47 States allow police to fingerprint and 44 States allow them to photograph certain juveniles; 44 States provide for an offense history repository for juvenile arrest/disposition information (26 are new or modified laws).

Many States made changes to the boundaries of juvenile court jurisdiction

Traditionally, judicial waiver was the transfer mechanism on which most States relied. Beginning in the 1970's and continuing through the present, an increasing number of State legislatures have enacted exclusion statutes. Less common, then and now, are concurrent jurisdiction provisions.

From 1992 through 1995, all but 10 States enacted or expanded provisions for transferring juveniles from juvenile court jurisdiction to criminal court for prosecution.

Most States have a combination of transfer provisions

As of year-end 1996, few States relied on just one mechanism for transferring to criminal court those youthful offenders deemed inappropriate for juvenile court processing. In States with a combination of transfer mechanisms, the exclusion and/or concurrent jurisdiction provisions generally target the oldest juveniles or those charged with the most serious offenses, while the relatively less serious or younger juveniles may be eligible for judicial waiver. Judicial waiver combined with legislative exclusion provisions was the most common arrangement (27 States).

Waiver and exclusion
Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Judicial waiver only
Arizona, California, Maine, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota

Waiver and concurrent jurisdiction
Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Wyoming

All three mechanisms
Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Vermont, Virginia

Legislative exclusion only
Connecticut, New Mexico, New York

Concurrent jurisdiction only

Source: Authors' adaptation of P. Torbet's State responses to serious and violent juvenile crime and L. Szymanski's Prosecuting juveniles as criminals.

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Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1997 Update on Violence