The juvenile court system in Massachusetts is a separate court system from the adult criminal legal system.
Juvenile court proceedings are not criminal which means that a delinquency finding (which is a determination that a juvenile broke the law) is not a criminal conviction. That being said, a delinquency finding can have terrible consequences for a young person including being sentenced to a juvenile detention facility run by the Department of Youth Services (DYS).
Delinquency charges can be filed against any child that is 12 years old or older when they are accused of violating any crime that exists under Massachusetts law (except murder.) Once a child reaches the age of 18, they are considered an adult in Massachusetts, and any charge brought against them would be prosecuted in adult court (district court or superior court). The maximum penalty for all delinquency charges is a commitment of the offending child to the Department of Youth Services (“DYS”) until the age of 18.
Some juveniles are indicted as “youthful offenders.” The juvenile must between the ages of 14 and 17 when the crime is alleged to have been committed and must be accused of a felony. Additionally, he must have been: 1) previously committed to DYS; or 2) charged with certain gun crimes; or 3) charged with a felony with involves the “infliction of serious bodily harm.” When a juvenile is indicted as a youthful offender, their case will be open to the public and can be covered by the media. That is not the case when it is a delinquency proceeding.
If a juvenile is accused of committing an offense when they were less than 18 years old but is not formally accused until they have turned 18, the juvenile court will retain jurisdiction over the prosecution. An 18-year old whose case falls under that provision can be committed to DYS up to the age of 20 in delinquency cases and 21 in youthful offender cases.
If someone 19 years or older is accused of committing an offense when they were less than 18, there is a process called a transfer hearing in which the prosecutor attempts to convince the juvenile court judge to transfer the case to the adult court system.
I regularly represent young people charged in the juvenile court. If someone you love has been charged in the juvenile court please contact my office to set up a consultation.
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If you or someone you love is addicted and facing criminal charges, please contact me to discuss the case. I have offices conveniently located in Belmont, MA and Lowell, MA and I represent clients in court in the Greater Boston Area, north of Boston, and Metrowest Boston.