Seventeen Year Olds No Longer Prosecuted as Adults in Massachusetts

On September 18, 2013 Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a bill placing 17-year-olds accused of crimes under the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts. Prior to this legislation, 17-year-olds in Massachusetts were prosecuted as adults, regardless of the circumstances or severity of the offense. Thirty-nine other states and the federal government use 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction. In cases of certain violent crimes, juvenile court judges would have the discretion to impose an adult sentence. The new law also means 17-year-olds won’t receive an adult criminal record. This legislation is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is now widely accepted in the scientific community that at seventeen, one’s brain is still undergoing critical development in areas related to decision-making concepts such as “thinking ahead” and “appreciating consequences”. Handling these criminal cases in juvenile court will insure that the appropriate focus will be on rehabilitation, while avoiding the stigma of an adult criminal record. According to Martin Healy, Chief Legal Counsel of the Massachusetts Bar Association, approximately 5,000 17-year-olds are arrested each year, most for nonviolent offenses.

The website for Citizens for Juvenile Justice is a good source of additional information and can be found at cfjj.org