Question of the Month: What age criteria do states in the Midwest use to determine jurisdiction in cases that involve a young person charged with violating the law?

According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice, every state has a set of “age boundaries” that help determine jurisdiction in these cases — in particular, whether they should go through juvenile court or criminal court. As of 2014, most U.S. states (41) set the “upper age” of juvenile court jurisdiction at 17. This age limit, though, is lower in two Midwestern states: Wisconsin and Michigan, where the upper age for juvenile court jurisdiction is only 16.

<--break->Under twin proposals introduced this past fall in Wisconsin (AB 378 and SB 280), the state’s nonviolent, first-time 17-year-old offenders would no longer be tried as adults. The sponsors of these bills point to studies showing that young people with criminal records are less likely to graduate from high school and have more difficulty finding work.

Neither of these Wisconsin measures had made it out of legislative committee as of February. A proposal in Michigan (HB 4955) to change that state’s upper age from 16 to 17 passed out of a House committee earlier this year. Illinois was the last Midwestern state to make such a change, with passage of HB 2404 in 2013. Every state also provides the statutory authority for juvenile courts to “extend” their jurisdiction of a juvenile after he or she exceeds the upper age limit. In the Midwest, the National Center for Justice reports, the oldest age at which a state’s juvenile court may retain jurisdiction of an offender ranges from age 18 (Iowa) to 24 (Wisconsin). It is less common for states to have “lower age boundaries” for juvenile courts. However, four states in the Midwest are exceptions to this rule. Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin set the minimum age at 10. In these states, individuals below this age who violate the law instead receive child protective services. According to the 2014 study “Juvenile Offenders and Victims,” states that do not set a lower age boundary rely on common law or case law to determine how to handle cases involving younger offenders. In addition to age, other factors can determine jurisdiction of a case — for example, the type of violation, first-time vs. repeat offenses, and statutory language that leaves the decision to the discretion of judges and/or local prosecutors. Every U.S. state has laws allowing at least some juvenile-age offenders to be transferred to adult criminal court. However, this type of transfer can also be limited or prohibited in state statute, and one of the common constraints is the age of the offender. In the Midwest, eight states specify that an individual under a certain age cannot be tried in criminal court (no judicial or prosecutorial discretion is allowed, regardless of the offense). The region’s minimum transfer ages are as follows: age 10 in Kansas and Wisconsin; age 13 in Illinois; and age 14 in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio.


Stateline Midwest: March 20162.45 MB