All states set boundaries for delinquency where childhood and adolescence end and adult criminal responsibility begins. State laws specify upper, and sometimes lower age limits, that define whether the law violating behavior of youth is under juvenile or criminal court jurisdiction.
The upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction has traditionally been 17 in the majority of states. Several states that had an upper age below age 17 have recently raised the age to conform with the national majority, and many additional states have ongoing study taskforces considering raising the age. The most recent upper age boundary change to take place has occurred in New Hampshire, which raised the upper age from 16 to 17, effective July 1, 2015.
All states have provisions allowing certain youth to be transferred from the juvenile court jurisdiction for criminal prosecution. The discretion for deciding traditionally resides with a juvenile court judge, a local prosecutor or a state legislature excluding youth in certain age and offense categories or making judicial waiver mandatory.
Transfer laws changed dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s when youth violent crime was also increasing. Many states shifted discretion for the transfer decision away from judges to prosecutors and the legislature. Since then, juvenile offending as measured by arrests of youth for violent and serious offenses has decreased sharply, but the core landscape of who decides when a youth is unfit for juvenile justice system treatment has not.
- Trends in Juvenile Justice Legislation 2011-15 (2015)
- Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting (2011)
- State Responses to Serious and Violent Juvenile Crime (1995 publication documenting sweeping transfer change)
Data for 1960 indicates general pre-1970 data. Feld B. 1987. The Juvenile Court Meets the Principle of the Offense: Legislative Changes to Juvenile Waiver Statutes, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 78(3): 471-533.
Transfer provisions are the policy pathways or laws used to reroute youth from juvenile to criminal court. State transfer provisions are typically limited by age and offense criteria to target a specific class of offender for transfer. All states have at least one provision and most have accumulated a combination of provisions. State reforms addressing the specifics of transfer age and offense criteria can widen or narrow transfer pathways without restoring juvenile court (judicial) discretion for transfer decisions.
Transfer provisions can be organized by the court an action is filed in to start the transfer procedure. There are also a set of mitigating provisions that provide a pathway out of criminal court and those that blend both juvenile and adult dispositions.
- OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book (federal website with additional transfer provision facts)
- Juvenile Justice Bills Tracking Database (tracks proposed transfer legislation in the states)
Juvenile Justice in a Developmental Framework: A 2015 Status Report (addresses automatic transfer reform)
Compare policy boundaries
States typically respond to changes in the policy environment and perceptions of serious and violent youth crime by adjusting the offense and age criteria of their transfer laws. State comparison views and drop-down filters are useful tools for scanning how transfer provisions have changed over time and what pathways are the most common. Query examples »
|State||Transfer pathways||Mitigating provisions|
|Juvenile court petition||Criminal court petition|
|Discretionary||Presumptive||Mandatory (automatic)||Statutory exclusion (automatic)||Once/always adult (automatic)||Prosecutor discretion||Reverse waiver||Juvenile blended sentencing||Criminal blended sentencing|
|Number of states||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|District of Columbia|
There are several ways for a youth's case to be transferred to adult court. Nationally, only transfers to adult court by judicial waiver in a juvenile court are known. The National Juvenile Court Data Archive—maintained by the National Center for Juvenile Justice—standardizes data provided by the states into a consistent format and generates national estimates of fundamental delinquency court processing events, including referrals judicially waived to criminal court.
Some states report statistics for other methods of transfer and this detail is displayed where it is available. These data should be used with caution as they represent different data sources and units of count. Additionally, some present greater detail and address more current time periods than others. Notes are included for examples that have known accuracy issues or are dated, but nonetheless provide a starting point for discussing a particular state’s ability to report transfer data. Users are encouraged to access the original data sources via the links provided for a full understanding of the state transfer data.