Primer on Jurisdiction Over Offenses Committed by Juveniles
by Patricia S. Cassell & Blake R. Hills
It comes as no surprise to members of the public that the juvenile court generally has jurisdiction over delinquent acts committed by juveniles. However, the public, and even some practitioners, are surprised to learn that the district court actually has jurisdiction over many offenses committed by juveniles. Indeed, jurisdiction over juveniles who commit serious offenses and jurisdiction over adults who committed offenses as juveniles are areas that are not particularly well known.
General Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
Utah law provides, in pertinent part, that the general rule for juvenile court jurisdiction is that: “[T]he juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction in proceedings concerning: (a) a child who has violated any federal, state, or local law or municipal ordinance or a person younger than 21 years of age who has violated any law or ordinance before becoming 18 years of age….” Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-103(1). The code provides that the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over many traffic, wildlife, and boating offenses but does have jurisdiction over juveniles charged with driving under the influence, reckless driving, and - of all things - reckless water skiing! See id. §§ 78A-6-103, 78A-7-106(2).
It should be noted that Utah law does not have a minimum age for which a child’s conduct can be labeled delinquent, leading to jurisdiction over the child in juvenile court. Although there are several states that do set a minimum age of delinquency, Utah does not.
Transfer of Jurisdiction to District Court
In Utah, there are two ways for a prosecutor to seek transfer of jurisdiction for juvenile offenses from juvenile to district court. The first is known as certification, and the second is by proceeding under the Serious Youth Offender (SYO) provisions.
Under the certification procedure, the prosecutor files an information in juvenile court alleging that a minor fourteen years of age or older has committed an offense along with a motion requesting that the court waive its jurisdiction and certify the minor to the district court. Id. § 78A-6-602(3). If the prosecution has alleged that the juvenile has committed a felony, a preliminary hearing will be conducted in juvenile court. Id. § 78A-6-703(1). At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution has the burden of proving that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by the juvenile and proving by a preponderance of the evidence “that it would be contrary to the best interests of the minor or of the public for the juvenile court to retain jurisdiction.” Id. § 78A-6-703(3). In making the decision of whether to retain...