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 2019 legislative session.
  • 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.

  • Several age boundary changes have been enacted but are not fully effective until after 2019:
  • In Louisiana, the highest age an individual's alleged conduct can be considered a "delinquent act" is 16. Pursuant to Louisiana S.B. 248, beginning 3/1/2019 certain non-violent conduct of a 17 year old may be considered a delinquent act, and on 7/1/2020 all conduct of a 17 year old will be included, assuming no further change to the definition of a "delinquent act."
  • In Missouri, the highest age an individual's (alleged) conduct can be considered delinquent is 16. Pursuant to Missouri S.B. No. 800, effective 1/1/2021 the threshold age will be 17 instead.
  • In Michigan, starting in October 2021, 17-year-olds will no longer automatically be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
  • In Vermont, Act 201 of 2018 (signed 5/30/2018) raises the age to 18 effective 7/1/2020, and through age 19, effective 7/1/2022. While the implementation is pending, the definition of a juvenile proceeding in Vermont under VT ST 5102 and 5103 allows juvenile jurisdiction to be sought through Vermont's youthful offender provisions (blended sentencing) for youth through age 21.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04101.asp?qaDate=2019. Released on May 21, 2021.