Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Juvenile Waiver (Transfer to Adult Court)

One of the more hotly debated subjects with regard to juveniles has to do with the option to waiver, or be transferred, to adult court. Supporters of juvenile waivers claim that minors who commit murder or other serious offenses need more serious consequences than those provided by the juvenile justice system. Opponents, meanwhile, believe adult courts are never appropriate for minors.

There are a few mechanisms by which a juvenile's case may be waived to an adult court, including by:

  • Statutory Exclusion;
  • Judicially Controlled Transfer;
  • Prosecutorial Discretion Transfer; or
  • "Once an Adult, Always an Adult" Transfer.

Judicial Waiver Offenses

A judicial waiver occurs when a juvenile court judge transfers a case from juvenile to adult court in order to deny the juvenile the protections that juvenile jurisdictions provide. Usually, the offense allegedly committed must be particularly egregious in order for the case to be waived judicially, or there must be a long history of offenses.

In 45 states, juvenile courts have jurisdiction over individuals up to age 17, but the maximum age is 16 in five states (Texas, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Missouri). But all states now provide for judicial waiver and have set a variety of lower age limits, typically ranging from 12 to 14 (10 in Vermont and Kansas). However, roughly one-third of states have no minimum age requirement.

Statutory Exclusion

Nearly half of the states (including Illinois) have statutory exclusions, which are provisions in the law to exclude certain offenses, such as first-degree murder and other violent felonies, from juvenile court jurisdiction.

Judicially Controlled Transfer

In states that employ judicial controlled transfers, all cases involving juveniles start in juvenile court, regardless of the crime, and must be transferred to adult court. Less than one-third of the states (including Texas) use this method. At least 10 states use a combination of statutory exclusion and judicially controlled transfer.

Prosecutorial Discretion Transfer

Just a few states (including Michigan) use a prosecutorial discretion approach to the juvenile waiver. In these states, both juvenile and adult court have jurisdiction over certain offenses and the prosecutor may choose.

"Once an Adult, Always an Adult" Transfer

Most states (California, for example) also have laws requiring minors who have been previously charged as adults to be prosecuted in adult court for any successive offenses, regardless of the nature of the offense.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Some states also have a legal provision which allows the prosecutor to file a juvenile case in both juvenile and adult court because the offense and the age of the accused meet certain criteria. Prosecutorial transfer does not have to meet the due process requirement stipulated by Kent v. U.S.

The most important case guiding juvenile waiver is Breed v. Jones. This case designates that a juvenile can't be adjudicated in a juvenile court only to be waived and tried in an adult court. To do so is to try the youth twice for the same crime (double jeopardy), which violates the Fifth Amendment. However, in reality, this case didn't have much impact on the juvenile system since juveniles are now subject to a waiver hearing which appears to be similar to a trial except in outcome.

Impact of Transfer to Adult Court

Transfer into an adult court proceeding can result in several negative consequences for the accused. Juvenile proceedings take place in a closed courtroom, while adult proceedings are typically public. A conviction record is generally sealed for juveniles, while adult records are frequently publicly accessible. Adult penalties tend to be much harsher than the penalties for the comparable juvenile offenses.

The juvenile courts tend to be more focused on the rehabilitation of the accused, unlike adult courts which may be focused more on punishment. Sadly, juveniles who serve jail and prison time are much more likely to be assaulted than those serving in juvenile facilities.

Are You Being Charged as an Adult? Protect Your Rights With an Attorney's Help

It's usually in a juvenile's best interest to avoid a juvenile waiver to adult court, since the penalties for adults are typically much harsher and the conviction record is much easier to access by third parties later. An experienced attorney can help defend your rights and ensure the best possible outcome. Get started today and find a criminal defense attorney near you.

Was this helpful?

Response sent, thank you

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex criminal defense situations usually require a lawyer
  • Defense attorneys can help protect your rights
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options