Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court
Over the past 20 years, States have significantly expanded legislation allowing for
prosecution of juveniles in adult criminal court. This trend has increased in recent
years to permit transfer to adult court at lower ages and for more offenses.
to NCSL, 17 States in 1995 further expanded or amended their waiver statutes.
Today, all 50 States and the District of Columbia allow for juvenile prosecution in
criminal court by one or more transfer mechanisms, according to GAO.
common mechanism is judicial waiver, which gives juvenile court judges discretion to
waive juvenile cases to adult criminal court. Other transfer mechanisms include direct
file, which provides prosecutorial discretion to file criminal charges against juveniles
directly in criminal court, and statutory exclusion, which mandates juvenile
prosecution in adult court.
The widespread enactment of legislation enhancing juvenile exposure to criminal
prosecution is a direct response to reported escalations of juvenile violent crime in
recent years. According to OJJDP, the number of serious crimes, such as murder and
aggravated assault, committed by juveniles increased 68 percent from 1988 to
Despite recent declines, these rates may worsen, according to reports cited by
the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy (CECP), which predicts that juvenile
violent offenses will continue to rise as the number of youth ages 14 to 17 increases
20 percent by the year 2005.
The dramatic expansion in transfer legislation is based on the premise that some
offenses warrant criminal prosecution and some juveniles are beyond rehabilitation.
Consequently, State legislation emphasizing accountability by violent juvenile
offenders focuses on transferring serious, violent juvenile offenders and habitual
offenders, according to GAO.
The impact of recent legislation providing for enhanced transfer is unclear. Less than
2 percent of all formal juvenile delinquency cases -- were judicially waived each year
from 1988 to 1992. In 1988, only 1.2 percent of all cases were waived to adult
criminal court, or 7,005 of 569,596 cases. The number of judicially waived cases
steadily climbed to 11,748 of 743,673 cases in 1992, to comprise 1.6 percent of all
Of the small number of juvenile cases waived to criminal court, more nonviolent
offenders were waived than violent offenders. Nonviolent offenders comprised 66
percent of all juveniles waived to adult court in 1992, according to GAO.
reports that nonviolent offenders represented 57 percent of all cases waived in 1993.
These statistics do not include juvenile transfers to criminal court via a prosecutor's
exercise of concurrent jurisdiction (direct file) authority and statutory exclusion. It is
unlikely that the above-mentioned statistics would change significantly, however,