Juveniles Charged as Adults
If a juvenile is charged with certain felony offenses, his or her case may be
transferred to the adult criminal division where the juvenile will be prosecuted
in the same way as adults charged with law violations. If a child is found
guilty or pleads guilty in adult court and is sentenced as an adult, that child
is forever considered an adult for future violations of state law. A juvenile’s
case may be transferred to adult criminal court in three ways:
Indictment — The State can seek to have a grand jury indict juveniles
of any age. Indictments are usually for offenses that are punishable by death or
life imprisonment, and cases where the child is younger than 14 years old.
Waiver — A waiver motion is a request made by the prosecutor asking
the juvenile court judge to transfer a child at least 14 years old to adult
court. The judge conducts a hearing and reviews the child’s history, the charge
and potential for rehabilitation, then either grants or denies the prosecutor’s
request. The judge’s decision is based on legal criteria, the facts of the case
and the child’s circumstances.
A child of any age, with the consent of parent or guardian, can also request to
be waived to adult court although this is extremely rare.
Direct File — There are two types of direct file: mandatory and
discretionary. A direct file is a transfer to adult court by the prosecutor. The
juvenile court judge has no authority to prevent the transfer and no hearing
will take place. This means that these juveniles have been transferred without
the benefit of a judicial hearing, so there has been no judgment by a neutral
judicial officer that there are services in the adult system for them, or that
they are inappropriate for services in a juvenile court.
Mandatory direct files stem from a state law requiring that for certain crimes a
child 16 years and older be tried as an adult. The law allows no exception.
The discretionary direct-file law allows the prosecutor to file charges for
certain crimes against a child 14 years or older in adult court. The decision to
send a discretionary case to the adult court lies solely with the prosecutor. A
judge cannot reverse a prosecutor’s discretionary decision to direct file a
case, even if he disagrees. The prosecutorial decision to direct file a
discretionary case is non-reviewable and non-appealable. If the prosecutor
chooses to direct file, the charging document will be filed in adult criminal
To view a description of the adult court case
process, click here.