As a minor, can I be transferred from juvenile court to adult court?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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In most jurisdictions, the two ways in which a juvenile case can be tried in adult court are through the certification process, also known as the waiver process or fitness process, or through automatic transfer. Most of the time, criminal cases involving defendants under the age of 18 are initiated in juvenile court. When the circumstances warrant it, however, the district attorney’s office can petition the court requesting that the case be transferred to adult court through the certification process.

Once the petition requesting transfer is filed, a hearing is scheduled before a juvenile court judge to review the case. Based on factors such as the seriousness of the current charges, the juvenile’s age, prior contacts with the criminal justice system, and the potential for the defendant’s rehabilitation in the juvenile court system. If the judge decides there is probable cause justifying the district attorney’s request, the case will be transferred to adult court.

Alternatively, many states have statutes that authorize the automatic transfer of a case involving a juvenile defendant to adult court under certain circumstances. For example, in Pennsylvania, a juvenile 15 years of age or older can automatically be tried in adult court where the offense is a certain type of serious felony and a deadly weapon was used during the commission of the crime. Although the case is filed from the beginning in the adult court system, the juvenile still has the right to try to get it transferred back to juvenile court. This process, often known as reverse certification, is essentially the same process used when attempting to get a case that was initially filed in juvenile court transferred to adult court. Many states exempt certain lower-level crimes like summary offenses (i.e. traffic violations) from being covered under the Juvenile Act, in which case, regardless of the age of the defendant, they are always dealt with in adult court.


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