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Juveniled Justice System Structure & Process
Jurisdictional Boundaries
Q: What are the upper and lower ages of delinquency and status offense jurisdiction?
A: In the majority of states, the upper age is 17 and the lower age is not specified for delinquency and status jurisdiction.

Note: Information is as of the end of the 2019 legislative session. NS: lower age not specified.
*In Louisiana, pursuant to S.B. 248, beginning 3/1/2019 certain non-violent conduct of a 17 year old will be considered a delinquent act; 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 Washington the lower age of delinquency jurisdiction is applied through a state juvenile court rule, which references a criminal code provision establishing the age youth are presumed to be incapable of committing a crime.

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  • The upper age of jurisdiction is the oldest age at which a juvenile court has original jurisdiction over an individual for law violating behavior. An upper age of 15 means that the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over a child when they turn 16; an upper age of 16 means that a juvenile court loses jurisdiction when a child turns 17; and an upper age of 17 means that a juvenile court loses jurisdiction over a child when they turn 18.
  • 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. Some 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.
  • Louisiana (effective 3/1/2019), New York (effective October 1, 2019), North Carolina (effective 12/1/2019) and South Carolina (effective July 1, 2019) raised the upper age of delinquency jurisdiction to 17 in 2019.

  • Several age boundary changes have been enacted but are not effective until after 2019:
  • In Michigan, starting in October 2021, 17-year-olds will no longer automatically be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
  • 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 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.
  • Utah will define the lower age as 12 but creates exceptions for serious offenses effective, May 12, 2020 (HB 262).

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04102.asp?qaDate=2019. Released on May 21, 2021.


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