by Blake R. Hills and Cassidy A. Hiné
Picture 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.
When a 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).
It is 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.
Prosecutors 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), https://www.usfca.edu/sites/ 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.
CHILDREN’S CAPACITY FOR CRIMINAL INTENT
Under 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...