MBA-supported legislation is expected to raise the age of
Juvenile Court jurisdiction to 18, providing 17-year-old defendants
access to the benefits of the juvenile justice system.
As of the writing of this article, House Bill 1432 had passed both
the House and the Senate unanimously. At press time, the bill
awaits action by the governor. With final passage of the
legislation and the governor's signature expected soon,
practitioners need to understand the impact of the law on
17-year-olds and some of the subtle changes in Juvenile Court
practice contained in the bill.
House Bill 1432 provides that the age of Juvenile Court
jurisdiction for delinquency and youthful offender cases will be
18, instead of 17. The bill makes no changes for minors charged
with first- or second-degree murder.
Seventeen-year-olds will not be allowed in adult prison or jail.
Instead of going to county jail or state prison, 17-year-olds will
be detained at and committed to the Department of Youth Services
(DYS). Much of the impetus for this new law is the federal Prison
Rape Elimination Act, which places restrictions on holding minors
in the same facilities as adults.
Seventeen-year-olds will no longer receive an adult criminal
record. The House bill also changes access to all criminal records
of 17-year-olds, allowing access only to cases that involved those
18 or over when the crime was committed. This appears to change
access even for those who were 17 when their cases were handled
previously in adult court.
Because the Juvenile Court will have jurisdiction over crimes
committed by youth before their 18th birthday, jurisdiction will be
expanded to allow the court to process those cases up to the
child's 20th birthday, as long as the case begins before their 19th
birthday. If a child is not apprehended until after their 19th
birthday for a crime committed before their 18th birthday, the
court will have to proceed under the provisions of G.L.c. 119,
§72A, which is the law that determines if a case should be
transferred to adult court. There would seem to be the possibility
for more proceedings to be brought under §72A, for crimes committed
while someone is 17, when a young person is not initially brought
to court until after they have turned 19.
The bill provides that juveniles whose cases are disposed of
before their 18th birthday will be committed to DYS until their
18th birthday. Those whose cases are disposed of after their 18th
birthday, but before their 19th birthday, will be committed until
their 19th birthday. And those whose cases are disposed of after
their 19th birthday, but before their 20th birthday, will be
committed to their 20th birthday.
The mandatory commitment to DYS for certain gun offenses is
changed to provide that those under 18 will be committed for six
months or until their 18th birthday, and those committed who are
already 18 will be committed for six months or until their 19th
birthday, whichever occurs first.
The bill also raises the jurisdictional age for harassment orders,
providing that all requests for such orders where the defendant is
under 18 shall be brought in the Juvenile Court.
House Bill 1432 provides that it will go into effect immediately
upon passage, so as soon as the governor signs the bill charges
brought against 17-year-olds will be in Juvenile Court instead of
adult court. There is no discussion in the bill of transitional
provisions for cases pending in adult court or charges brought for
crimes committed before the effective date of the bill's passage,
but there is a section that would allow sheriffs to transfer
17-year-olds now being held in adult jail to DYS.
The unanimous vote of Massachusetts legislators demonstrates that
they are looking forward to the benefits of having 17-year-olds in
Juvenile Court. Lawyers who represent juveniles are also hailing
this new law, which will keep their 17-year-old clients out of
adult court and adult jail.