Article Diapers and Detention: Should There Be a Minimum Age Limit for Juvenile Delinquency in Utah?, 0219 UTBJ, Vol. 32, No. 1. 24

Author:by Blake R. Hills and Cassidy A. Hiné
Position::Vol. 32 1 Pg. 24
 
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Article Diapers and Detention: Should There Be a Minimum Age Limit for Juvenile Delinquency in Utah?

Vol. 32, No. 1 Pg. 24

Utah Bar Journal

February, 2019

January,

2019.

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., Setting a Minimum Age for Juvenile

Jurisdiction in California, 13 International J. of

Prisoner Health 49 (2017).

Scientific

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).

Scientific

...

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