Minimum Age for Delinquency Adjudication—Multi-Jurisdiction Survey

Most states do not set a minimum age of prosecution in juvenile court. And although common sense knowledge of child development and international standards compel removal of younger children from the juvenile legal system, states have yet to heed the call. 

Because younger children are inherently more vulnerable, they should not be subject to the potential harms of juvenile court and the life-long consequences that stem from such involvement. States should strengthen community supports outside the justice system and set the minimum age of prosecution at 14 years old.

The statutes of 22 U.S. states and territories specify a minimum age for delinquency adjudication.

  • Two states set a minimum age of 12 by statute: 
    • California: except for murder, rape by force, sodomy by force, oral copulation by force, and sexual penetration by force; for which there is no age limit. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 602
    • Massachusetts: Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 119, § 52
  • One state set a minimum age of 11 by statute:
    • Nebraska: Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 43-247(1)-(2)
  • Fifteen states / territories set a minimum age of 10 by statute:
    • American Samoa: Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103
    • Arkansas: Ark. Code Ann. §§ 9-27-303(15), 9-27-306(a)(1)(A)(i)
    • Arizona: A.R.S. § 8-307(A) 
    • Colorado: Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 19-2-104(1)(a)
    • Kansas: Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2302(n)
    • Louisiana: La. Child. Code Ann. art. 804(3)
    • Minnesota: Minn. Stat. Ann. § 611.14
    • Mississippi: Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-105(i)
    • Nevada: Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 194.010
    • North Dakota: N.D. Cent. Code Ann. § 12.1-04-01
    • Pennsylvania: 42 Pa. Stat. And Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6302
    • South Dakota: S.D. Codified Laws § 26-8C-2
    • Texas: Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 51.02(2)(A)
    • Vermont: except for murder; for which there is no age limit. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5102(2)(C)
    • Wisconsin: Wis. Stat. Ann. § 938.12(1)
  • One state set a minimum age of 8:
    • Washington: Wash. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9A.04.050 (though the state must prove children age 8 to 12 “have sufficient capacity to understand the act” in order to proceed against them).
  • Two states set a minimum age of 7:
    • Connecticut: Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-120(1)(A)(i)
    • New York: N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 301.2(1)
  • One state sets a minimum age of 6:
    • North Carolina: N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1501(7)

Last updated, January 22, 2020

Citations

While there is not a specified minimum age of criminal responsibility under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UN’s Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty recommends that all UN member states set a minimum age of criminal responsibility no lower than age 14.

Additionally, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the CRC) encourages countries to consider minimum ages as high as 16, based on collective international standards. Among countries that set the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 14 or higher are Argentina, China, Congo, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Somalia, Sweden, Russia, and Ukraine, to name a few. 

Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 8-203(A)(West 2019) (granting delinquency courts jurisdiction over “any child, ten years of age or older, against whom a complaint has been filed…”); Ark. Code Ann. §§ 9-27-303(15) (West 2017), 9-27-306(a)(1)(A)(i) (West 2015) (youth 10 to 18 can be alleged to be delinquent); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 602 (West 2019) (a minor who is between 12 and 17 when they violate the law, and any minor under 12 who has committed murder, rape by force, sodomy by force, oral copulation by force, and sexual penetration by force, “is within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court”); Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 19-2-104(1)(a) (West 2018) (the youngest age at which a youth can be adjudicated is 10); Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-120(1)(A)(i) (2018) (for delinquency proceedings, a youth must be at least 7 at the time of the alleged delinquent act); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2302(n) (West 2018) (“Juvenile means a person . . . [who is] 10 or more years of age but less than 18″); La. Child. Code Ann. art. 804(3) (2018) (delinquent act is an act committed by a child of 10 or older); Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-8A-05(d) (West 2000) (“In a delinquency proceeding there is no presumption of incapacity as a result of infancy for a child who is at least 7”); Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 119, § 52 (West 2018) (a delinquent child is a child between 12 and 18 who commits a delinquency act); Minn. Stat. Ann. § 611.14 (West 2012) (the youngest age at which a youth can be adjudicated delinquent is 10); Miss. Code Ann. § 43-21-105(i) (West 2017) (“delinquent child is a child who has reached his [10]th birthday and committed a delinquent act”); Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 43-247(1)-(2) (West 2016) (a juvenile is child who is 11 or older at the time the act was committed); Nev. rev. Stat. Ann. § 194.010(1) (West 2015) (all children are liable to punishment except children under 8); N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 301.2(1) (McKinney 2016) (a “juvenile delinquent” means a person over 7 and less than 16); N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7B-1501(7) (West 2017) (any juvenile less than 16 but at least 6); N.D. Cent. Code Ann § 12.1-04-01 (West 1981) (youth under 7 are incapable of committing offenses); 42 P.A. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6302 (West 2018) (defining delinquent child as a child older than 10 who was found to have committed a delinquent act); S.D. Codified Laws § 26-8C-2 (2004) (delinquent child is a child 10 or older who has violated a federal, state, or local law or regulation); Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 51.02(2)(A) (defining child as a person who is 10 or older but under 17); Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5102(2)(C) (West 2017) (defining a child as an individual who committed a delinquent act after becoming 10 and prior to becoming 22, and an individual under 10 who has committed murder); Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.04.050 (West 2011) (children under 8 are incapable of committing crime and there is a rebuttable presumption that children at least 8 but under 12 are incapable of committing crime); Wis. Stat. Ann. § 938.12(1) (West 2018) (the court has jurisdiction over any juvenile 10 or older who is alleged to be delinquent).