A Juvenile Waiver occurs whenever a judge decides to transfer a case from juvenile court to an adult court.  The juvenile will be tried as an adult and will be denied whatever protections may exist in juvenile proceedings.  Juvenile waivers are allowed in nearly all states.  The decision to “waive” juvenile protections and try the juvenile as an adult rests with the judge, not the defendant.   

The defining characteristic of a juvenile waiver is that it is the judge who makes the decision to transfer the juvenile offender to an adult court.  Juveniles may also be immediately transferred to an adult court according to statute (“Statutory Exclusion”), or they may be tried in both adult and juvenile courts at the same time (“Concurrent Jurisdiction”).

However, it should be noted that a juvenile technically cannot be tried in juvenile court, and then transferred and retried again in an adult court.  To do so would be considered a violation of Double Jeopardy laws, which prohibit a person from being tried for the same crime.  Juvenile offenders have the right to have an attorney present during hearings where juvenile waiver is being decided upon. 

At what Age can a Juvenile Waiver be issued?

In most states juvenile waivers are issued to defendants who are 17 or 18 years old.  However, in some states this age can be as young as 13 or 14.  This means that even very young offenders may be subject to adult criminal law standards depending on the nature of the crime committed. 

Because even very young offenders can be tried as adults, the idea of trying a juvenile as an adult has been the focus of much public debate and litigation. 

If a juvenile is tried as an adult, it could have very serious impacts for the person.  For example, the adult charges will likely remain permanently on their record (whereas most juvenile criminal records are sealed when the person turns 18).  The juvenile offender could also lose several civil privileges such as the right to vote.    

What Types of Offenses are subject to a Juvenile Waiver?

Juvenile waiver to an adult court is usually reserved only for particularly egregious crimes.  Most of these serious offenses require proof that the juvenile acted with a criminal intent similar to that of an adult when committing the crime. 

Offenses that are typically subject to juvenile waiver include:

  • Violent crimes, such as first-degree murder
  • Violations of firearm laws
  • Violations of drug possession and distribution laws

Therefore it may be considered unconstitutional if a juvenile offender is being transferred to an adult court for a minor crime.  However, juvenile waivers can also be issued if the defendant has a long history of committing several crimes. 

Can a Juvenile Waiver be contested?

Yes- when deciding whether a juvenile waiver should be prescribed, a judge may consider several related factors, such as:

  • The criminal history of the juvenile offender
  • Information gathered from psychiatric or psychological evaluation
  • The nature and type of the criminal acts involved
  • Whether the state enforces statutes which allow immediate transfer to an adult court without first conducting a juvenile trial 

During the initial determination of juvenile waiver, the defendant’s attorney may contest the waiver based on the factors listed above.  The portion of a juvenile trial when these factors are considered is known as the “transfer hearing” or “waiver hearing”.  Not all juvenile cases involve transfer hearings. 

Do I need a Lawyer for Juvenile Waivers?

Juvenile waivers can have significant impacts on the future of a juvenile offender.  If you or a loved one has been involved in charges for a juvenile crime, you should speak with an criminal attorney immediately.  Juvenile criminal systems are much different than adult court systems, and may vary from state to state.  However, an experienced lawyer can assist you with your case.  Your attorney can present to you your possible options according to the laws of your state.