Once an Adult/Always an Adult

A special transfer category has been created in 31 States for juveniles who, having once been prosecuted as adults, are subsequently accused of new offenses. Most States with "once an adult/always an adult" provisions simply require criminal prosecution of all such subsequent offenses -- by means of either a blanket exclusion or an automatic waiver mechanism. Others exclude or require waiver of only a broadly defined subset of these cases -- those involving juveniles of a certain age, for instance, or those in which the subsequent offense is sufficiently serious.

Nearly all once an adult/always an adut provisions stipulate that the juvenile involved must have been convicted of the offense that triggered the adult prosecution. In California, however, this is not always necessary; a subsequent charge that would ordinarily require a fitness hearing in juvenile court may be filed directly in criminal court if the juvenile involved was previously declared unfit for juvenile handling and transferred to criminal court -- even if no conviction followed the original transfer -- provided the original unfitness determination was based on criteria (the juvenile’s delinquency history, failure of rehabilitation attempts, or both) unrelated to the juvenile’s guilt or innocence of the previous charge. Likewise, in Delaware, the law does not require a conviction in the original case, provided a court (either the juvenile court in a discretionary waiver hearing or the criminal court following a reverse waiver request) had the opportunity to make a determination regarding the juvenile’s amenability to the rehabilitative processes of the juvenile court. Idaho requires adult prosecution of a juvenile who has already been convicted as an adult, even if the original conviction was for a lesser offense that would not have been excluded from juvenile court jurisdiction. Mississippi requires no conviction on the first adult-prosecuted offense if the juvenile is subsequently accused of a felony.

Although most States require that, following a juvenile’s conviction as an adult, all subsequent offenses be prosecuted in criminal court, three -- Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas -- restrict the coverage of their once an adult/always an adult provisions to cases in which juveniles are subsequently accused of felonies, and California specifies that the subsequent offense must be one for which waiver to criminal court would otherwise be allowed. Likewise, whereas most States make no distinction based on the ages of juveniles previously convicted as adults, California and Iowa limit the application of their once an adult/always an adult provisions to 16-year-olds. Oregon is the only State that leaves the once an adult/always an adult decision to its juvenile courts, authorizing them, in connection with the waiver of jurisdiction over a juvenile of at least 16, to enter an order making waiver automatic in any subsequent case involving the same juvenile; however, if the juvenile is not convicted following the entry of such an order, the law requires that the order be vacated.

Many states require criminal prosecution of all subsequent offenses.

bullet States with once an adult/always an adult provisions: Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South
bullet States without once an adult/always an adult provisions: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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Trying Juveniles as Adults in Criminal Court: An Analysis of State Transfer Provisions December 1998