Statistical Briefing Book > Juvenile Justice System Structure & Process Previous Page
Jurisdictional Boundaries
Q: What is a juvenile?
A: A juvenile is a youth at or below the upper age of original jurisdiction in a State.
Note: Information is as of the end of the 2013 legislative session.
*Massachusetts raised its upper age from 16 to 17 on September 18, 2013.
  • The upper age of jurisdiction is the oldest age at which a juvenile court has original jurisdiction over an individual for law violating behavior.
  • State statutes define which youth are under the original jurisdiction of the juvenile court. These definitions are based primarily on age criteria. In most States, the juvenile court has original jurisdiction over all youth charged with a criminal law violation who were below the age of 18 at the time of the offense, arrest, or referral to court. Many States have higher upper ages of juvenile court jurisdiction in status offense, abuse, neglect, or dependency matters - often through age 20.
  • Many States have statutory exceptions to basic age criteria. The exceptions, related to the youth's age, alleged offense, and/or prior court history, place certain youth under the original jurisdiction of the criminal court. This is known as statutory exclusion.
  • In some States, a combination of the youth's age, offense, and prior record places the youth under the original jurisdiction of both the juvenile and criminal courts. In these situations where the courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the prosecutor is given the authority to decide which court will initially handle the case. This is known as concurrent jurisdiction, prosecutor discretion, or direct filing.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: Released on April 24, 2014.