Blake R. Hills and Cassidy A. Hiné
a baby crawling into juvenile court to face allegations of
delinquent conduct. Although this seems like an extreme
example, current law could allow for this to happen in Utah.
child engages in conduct in Utah that would be a crime if
committed by an adult, the juvenile court has jurisdiction in
the vast majority of cases. Indeed, Utah law provides that
the general rule for juvenile court jurisdiction is that the
“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 eighteen years of age.”
Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-103(1). A “child” is
defined as “a person under 18 years of age.”
Id. § 78A-6-105(6).
hardly surprising that Utah has a maximum age limit for when
a child’s conduct can be labeled delinquent. However,
it is surprising to most members of the public and even to
many practitioners that there is no minimum age. Indeed, it
is theoretically possible for a prosecutor to file a petition
in juvenile court alleging that a child as young as four,
two, or even a few months has engaged in delinquent conduct
such as assault or robbery.
generally refrain from charging children of especially young
age as a matter of practice. See Connie de la Vega
et al., University of San Francisco School of Law Center for
Law and Global Justice, Cruel and Unusual: U.S.
Sentencing Practices in a Global Context, 7 n.7 (2012),
default/files/law/cruel-and-unusual.pdf. But should it be
possible, theoretically or not? The time has come to evaluate
whether Utah should establish a minimum age limit for when a
child’s conduct can be labeled delinquent.
CAPACITY FOR CRIMINAL INTENT
the common law, a child under the age of seven was
irrebuttably presumed to completely lack the capacity for
criminal intent and could not be prosecuted, while a child
between the ages of seven and fourteen was presumed to lack
the capacity for criminal intent and could not be prosecuted
unless the presumption was rebutted. See Elizabeth
S. Barnert et al., Setting a Minimum Age for Juvenile
Jurisdiction in California, 13 International J. of
Prisoner Health 49 (2017).
knowledge has increased in the time since the common law was
replaced by statutes defining the rights and responsibilities
of children. This research supports the common law position.
Indeed, “[t]here is widespread agreement among
developmental psychologists that the period between twelve
and eighteen years of age is a time of very significant
physical, cognitive, and emotional development.” David
O. Brink, Immaturity, Normative Competence, and Juvenile
Transfer: How (Not) to Punish Minors for Major Crimes,
82 Tex. L. rev. 1555, 1571 (2004).