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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: Table information is as of the end of the 2016 legislative session. NS: lower age not specified.
*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 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 a 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.
  • Since 1975 eight states have changed their age criteria. Alabama raised its upper age from 15 to 16 in 1976 and from 16 to 17 in 1977; Wyoming lowered its upper age from 18 to 17 in 1993; New Hampshire and Wisconsin lowered their upper age from 17 to 16 in 1996; Rhode Island lowered its upper age from 17 to 16 and then raised it back to 17 again 4 months later in 2007; Connecticut passed a law in 2007 to raise its upper age from 15 to 17 gradually from 2010 to 2012; Illinois raised its upper age for misdemeanors from 16 to 17 in 2010; Massachusetts raised its upper age from 16 to 17 in 2013; Illinois raised its upper age for most felonies from 16 to 17 in 2014; and New Hampshire raised its upper age from 16 back to 17 in 2015.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04102.asp?qaDate=2016. Released on March 27, 2017.

 

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