Federal Juvenile - Law and Practice 

© Copyright 1990 by William R. Coulson. All rights reserved. 


A. [13.1] Scope of Chapter 

    Federal law provides for specialized processing and sentencing of juveniles up to the age of 21. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act of 1974, significantly amended by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, offers a range of benefits to an eligible criminal defendant of which the practitioner should be aware. 18 U.S.C. §§5031 - 5040. 

   This chapter discusses the federal criminal law relating to juveniles. its practical applications, and its potential problem areas. Forms of common pleadings are appended. 

B. [13.2] History and Policy 

   As criminal enterprises become more sophisticated, they increasingly employ juveniles (persons under 18 years of age) to do much of the "street work' in areas of federal interest such as narcotics, interstate car thefts, and mail thefts. It is often fairer and more efficient to prosecute all juvenile and adult members of such criminal enterprises in a common forum. In addition. numerous offenses are uniquely federal in nature - counterfeiting and alien smuggling, for example. Juveniles involved in these activities are traditionally prosecuted federally. Finally, various federal installations in Illinois - veterans' hospitals. military bases, and some wildlife reservations, for example - are areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction. Problems with juveniles at these facilities have increased dramatically in recent years. 

   The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) was signed into law on September 7, 1974. It sought to conform federal practice to the Supreme Court's seminal juvenile law holding In re Gault. 387 U.S. 1, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967). The FJDA provides for specialized handling of juveniles accused of federal crimes in situations where the state lacks juvenile jurisdiction or is unwilling or unable to prosecute, or when there is a substantial federal interest in a case involving controlled substances or acts of violence. 

   The FJDA recognizes the expertise of the states in the juvenile area and embodies a congressional policy of federal abstention. Only the 

   Attorney General or his designate can authorize the prosecution of a juvenile in federal court, and then only upon a certification that the statutory prerequisites are met. 

   The FJDA’s emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A juvenile is charged with a status - delinquency - and not with a crime. However, the underlying conduct with which the juvenile is charged is limited to those acts that constitute a federal crime. In addition, the Act requires the sealing of all court records and the exclusion of the public from court proceedings, as well as segregated custody of juveniles. The juvenile's parents or guardian must be given notice of the proceedings. Convictions are not part of the public record. The maximum sentence that may be imposed is generally much less than that to which an adult is subject. The FJDA also provides mechanisms by which a juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult in more serious cases. The procedures defined in the FJDA are generally analogous to Illinois law, which should be cited when federal precedents are lacking. 

C. (13.3) Juvenile Classifications 

   The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act defines a “juvenile” as a person under 18 years of age. In contrast, under the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, a juvenile is a person under 17 years of age. III.Rev.Stat., c. 37, ¶805-3. 

   “Juvenile delinquency” is any federal crime committed by a juvenile. A person can also be charged as a juvenile with a pre-age-18 act of delinquency until he turns 21. 18 U.S.C. §5031. United States v. Araiza-Valdez, 713 F.2d 430 (9th Cir. 1980). 

   The age of the defendant is not an element of the delinquency charge, but it is a fact necessary to the Act's applicability. United States v. Frasquillo-Zomosa, 626 F.2d 99 (9th Cir.), cert. denied. 449 U.S. 987 (1980). Once a defendant turns 21, he cannot be charged with an act of juvenile delinquency, even if the act occurred when he was under 18. Rather, he can be indicted and tried only as an adult. United States v. Hoo, 825 F.2d 667 (2d Cir. 1987); In re Martin, 788 F.2d 696 (11th Cir. 1986). When an alleged offense is a continuing one, such as conspiracy, which began when the defendant was 17 and continued until after age 18, the government may also choose to indict him as an adult based on the post-age-18 aspects of the crime. United States v. Cruz, 805 F.2d 1464 (11th Cir. 1986). If a charged juvenile turns 21 before trial or sentencing, there is authority for the case to continue to conclusion and sentencing as a juvenile case. United States v. Doe, 631 F.2d 110 (9th Cir. 1980). 


A. [13.4] Summary of Prosecutive Steps

 The following scenario exemplifies the federal juvenile process: 

 1. arrest, or formal charge by criminal complaint or information; 

 2. certification by U.S. Attorney that the state is unwilling or unable to prosecute as a juvenile delinquent, or that the case involves a crime of violence or a controlled substance and a substantial federal interest; 

 3. federal information charging juvenile delinquency; 

 4. non-jury trial; and 

 5. if guilty, disposition. 

    After step 2 - certification - the government may file a motion to transfer (or the defendant may consent) so that the juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult. If. after hearing, the court grants the motion. the government may seek a felony indictment, and the case proceeds through the regular criminal channels. 

B. [13.5] Venue

    Venue for a delinquency prosecution is the same as for the underlying federal offense. That is, prosecution must be in the district in which the offense was allegedly committed. Fed.R.Crim.P. 18. 

    Note, however, that a juvenile found, held, or arrested in Illinois who is charged in another federal district can consent to be prosecuted in Illinois with the additional consent of the appropriate Illinois United States Attorney. Fed.R.Crim.P. 20(d). 

C. [13.6] Arrest and Pretrial Custody

   An arrestee charged by federal criminal complaint who is found to be a juvenile may be held under the criminal complaint until formal delinquency charges can be filed. 18 U.S.C. §§5032, 751(b). 

   The FJDA requires that a juvenile arrestee be advised "immediately use ... of his legal rights, in language comprehensible to a juvenile' and that the arresting officer notify the Attorney General (the U.S. Attorney's office will suffice) and the juvenile's parents or guardian. The juvenile must be taken before a magistrate "forthwith" and cannot be detained for longer than a “reasonable period of time." 18 U.S.C. §5033. The magistrate must appoint counsel for an indigent juvenile and can order the parents to pay the fees. If necessary, the magistrate can appoint a guardian ad litem for the juvenile.

   The FJDA provides that the juvenile be released to his parents or guardian or other responsible party unless, after hearing, the magistrate concludes that only detention will insure the juvenile’s timely appearance in court. 18 U.S.C. §5034. Procedures under the Bail Reform Act otherwise appiv. 18 U.S.C. §3141, et seq.

   If a juvenile is detained, the FJDA explicitly requires that he be segregated from adult prisoners and that he receive adequate care and treatment, including education and recreation. 18 U.S.C. §5035. 

   All court records of the juvenile proceeding must be sealed: disclosure is limited by the Act. 18 U.S.C. §5038. 

   The complaint may be a public document if the age of the arrestee was not initially established. Counsel should insure that the court and prosecutors are aware of these obligations once the arrestee's age is established. Also, counsel should insure that court records are sealed and that the court proceedings are conducted in camera. 

D. [13.7] Certification by the United States Attorney 

   The FJDA requires that a juvenile be surrendered to state authorities unless the Attorney General or his designate, after investigation, certifies to the court that at least one of three circumstances is present: (1) the juvenile system of the state lacks jurisdiction or refuses to assume jurisdiction; (2) the state does not have services adequate for the needs of juveniles, or (3) the offense is a "crime of violence' (18 U.S.C. §16) or a drug offense involving distribution or importation, and there is a “substantial Federal interest.” 18 U.S.C. §5032. The third basis is available only to offenses committed after October 12, 1984 (the effective date of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984). The Attorney General has delegated the certification authority to the United States Attorney in each district. 28 C.F.R. §0.57. Certification is not required for a petty offense prosecution. 18 U.S.C. §5032. 

   The certification should contain findings as to the age of the defendant and the basis for the certification. It is the better practice to incorporate a letter from the state's attorney declining prosecution if that is the basis for the certification. A sample certification is given in §18.20 below. 

   It is the position of the Department of Justice that the juvenile does not have standing to contest the basis for the certification. This position has been sustained by some courts (United States v. Vancier. 515 F.2d 1378. 1380 - 1381 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 857 (1975); United States v. Martinez, 536 F.2d 886 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 907 (1976)), and rejected by some (United States v. Juvenile, 559 F.Supp. 1126 (D.Ore. 1984), United States v. C.G., 736 F.2d 1474 (11th Cir. 1984)). The Attorney General’s power to certify is also characterized as “discretionary” in the federal escape statute. 18 U.S.C. §751(b). Counsel should, therefore, challenge the certification where appropriate. However, a prosecutor's substantial 
Federal interest" assertion appears to be beyond the scope of judicial review. 

   Also, case law indicates that the state's unwillingness or inability to prosecute means as a juvenile in Juvenile Court, and not as an adult. Martinez, supra at 890. 

   There are a number of situations counsel should be aware of in which the federal government may elect to proceed against a juvenile. Clearly, several of these situations involve questions of prosecutorial discretion, rather than legal jurisdiction. 

   Most obvious are juvenile crimes committed on an exclusive federal jurisdiction. In Illinois such facilities include certain veterans’ hospitals, military instations, and wildlife reservations. State Juvenile Courts lack jurisdiction over these federal areas. In such cases the federal government has incorporated the substantive criminal law of Illinois through the Assimilated Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. §13. The juvenile is charged with a violation of Illinois criminal law and §13 as a result of an act of juvenile delinquency. 

   Also subject to federal juvenile prosecution are federal crimes such as counterfeiting, possession of stolen mail, and alien smuggling that do not have parallel state equivalents. Federal crimes may provide the basis for an Illinois delinquency petition (III.Rev.Stat., c. 37, ¶805-3), but such offenses traditionally are kept in federal court, and the state's attorney will usually decline them. 

   Similarly, juveniles who are part of a larger adult federal criminal enterprise may be prosecuted federally for reasons of efficiency and uniformity of treatment. The state juvenile system may be unwilling to interfere with the ongoing federal prosecution of the adults by proceeding against the juvenile. Evidentiary problems may be encountered, for example, when the federal evidence was by consensual recordings whose admissibility in state court may be questioned. 

   When the charge involves drugs or violence and there is a substantial federal interest, the juvenile can also be prosecuted federally regardless of the state's attorneys position. This will typically be done when the juvenile is a part of a larger adult criminal organization. 
Finally, under Illinois law a person over 17 is an adult. Thus, a 17-year-old charged federally with delinquency could not be surrendered to a state juvenile Court but would be charged as an adult in state court. Thus. a 17-year-old federal defendant may wish to urge the Attorney General to certify, so he faces delinquency federally rather than a felony locally. The Attorney General retains the discretion, of course, not to certify and to surrender the defendant to the state for prosecution as an adult. United States v. Hayes, 590 F.2d 309 (9th Cir. 1979).

   Deferred prosecution, or pretrial diversion, is available to juveniles, but only after certification by the United States Attorney. The U.S. Attorney is usually receptive to a negotiated disposition of a juvenile's case that emphasizes treatment rather than punishment. 

E. [13.8] Information Charging Juvenile Delinquency 

 Usually filed concurrently with the certification is an information charging the defendant with juvenile delinquency. The information typically states that the defendant committed an act of juvenile delinquency in that he committed a specified federal crime. 18 U.S.C. §5032. This information supersedes the complaint. A sample information is given in §13.21 below. Counsel for a defendant facing charges for pre-age-18 acts should be sure to negotiate the filing of the information before the defendant reaches 21 years of age and becomes ineligible for FJDA bene- fits. 

 The FJDA requires that a detained juvenile be tried within 30 days of the beginning of the federal detention unless the defendant causes or consents to additional delay or the court finds that some additional delay is in the interest of justice. Thus, the prosecutor must move quickly in a custody case to obtain the certification and file the information. IS U.S.C. §5036, United States v. Sechrist, 640 F.2d 81 (7th Cir. 1981).

 Once the information is filed, the case is assigned to a district judge and proceeds to arraignment in the usual fashion. Remember, however, that all pleadings should be sealed and court proceedings conducted in chambers. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding motions, discovery, and plea discussions apply unless they are inconsistent with the FJDA. Fed.R.Crim.P. 54(b)(5). 

F. [13.9] Trial

 The trial of a delinquency information is conducted in chambers and without a jury. McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528. 29 L.Ed.2d 647 (1971); United States v. Cuomo, 525 F.2d 1285 (5th Cir. 1976). The government must prove the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The Federal Rules of Evidence apply, as do constitutional rights of confrontation, self-incrimination, and double jeopardy. United States v. Frasquillo- Zomosa, 626 F.2d 99 (9th Cir.), cert. denied. 449 U.S. 987 (1980). 

G. [13.10] Sentencing 

 A juvenile found guilty of delinquency must be sentenced within 20 court days of the verdict unless the court. after hearing, decides to commit the juvenile for study before sentencing. 18 U.S.C. §5037.

 Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 changed the juvenile sentencing provisions. These changes are effective only for offenses committed after November 1, 1987. Thus, offenses committed before November 1, 1987, are subject to prior law. 

1. [13.11] Offenses Committed After November 1, 1987 

 The sentencing court is required to consider the policy statements of the United States Sentencing Commission. The Commission has not promulgated mandatory sentencing guidelines for juvenile delinquency. The guidelines for specific federal crimes do not apply to convicted juveniles.

 After hearing, the sentencing court has several options, which area

 a. to suspend the adjudication of delinquency; 
 b. to enter a restitution order; 
 c. to place the defendant on probation,
 d. to commit the defendant to custody. 

 If the defendant is under 18 at sentencing, then the maximum period of probation or custody is the adult maximum for the underlying offense, except that the defendant's probation or custody cannot extend beyond his 21st birthday. 18 U.S.C. §5037. 

 If the defendant is over 18 at sentencing, then the maximum probation is three years. The maximum custody is five years if the underlying offense has a maximum sentence of twelve years or higher, and three years otherwise (but the sentence cannot exceed the maximum sentence on the underlying offense.) 18 U.S.C. §5037. Parole has been abolished for offenses committed after November 1, 1987. 

2. [13.12] Offenses Committed Before November l, 1987 

 If the defendant is under 19 at sentencing, then probation and custody cannot extend past his 21st birthday (or the maximum time for the underlying offense). 

 If the defendant is over 19 at sentencing, then probation and custody cannot exceed two years (or the maximum term for the underlying offense). Parole is available at any time. 18 U.S.C. §5041.

3. [13.13] The Youth Corrections Act 

 The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 repealed the Youth Corrections Act, effective October 12, 1984, The YCA provided significant sentencing benefits to defendants up to the age of 26, including the possible setting aside of the conviction and the expunging of all criminal records. The Act remains available for offenses committed prior to October 12, 1984, Creative counsel should, when possible. structure a plea agreement to include only offenses occurring before the date so the defendant will be eligible for the Act's sentencing benefits. Obviously, this becomes difficult after October 12, 1989, because the usual statute of limitations is five years.

4. [13.14] Post-Sentencing Considerations 

 All records of the proceeding must be sealed and the defendant told of his rights to privacy. The court can release the records only to another court, to law enforcement agencies for investigative and employment purposes, to treatment agencies, to national security agencies, and to the victim of the crime. The FJDA also provides that inquiries related to the defendant's applications for employment, licenses. bonds, or any other right or privilege will be answered the same as for persons with no juvenile record. IS U.S.C. §5038.

 The FJDA provides that juveniles who are committed may not be housed so as to have regular contact with adult prisoners. It also directs the Attorney General "whenever possible” to use community-based facilities near the juvenile’s home. 18 U.S.C. §5039. Federal juvenile delinquents are generally housed in state facilities on a contract basis, although there are presently no contracts with Illinois institutions. 


 The FJDA provides two mechanisms by which an accused juvenile may be prosecuted as an adult: (a) consent and (b) for specified offenses, by government motion to transfer. 

 A. [13.16] Consent 

 The FJDA requires that the accused can request 'in writing upon advice of counsel to be proceeded against as an adult.” §5032. Clearly, the court must be satisfied that the juvenile has the capacity to give an informed consent. There is authority that the district court has no discretion to deny a timely consent. United States v. Doe, 627 F.2d 181 (9th Cir. 1980). 

 Factors that might prompt such consent include a plea agreement with the government or the desire for a jury trial. See United States v. Doe, supra. In most cases, of course, it is in the defendant’s interest to be proceeded against as a juvenile and not as an adult. An adult conviction is a matter of public record, the maximum sentence is generally longer, and it could be served in an adult institution. 

B. [13.17] Motion To Transfer 

 If the juvenile was over 15 years of age at the time of the alleged offense, and if the felonv is a crime of violence (see 18 U.S.C. §16) or a drug offense involving distribution or importation. the United Stater, has the authority to seek to trv the juvenile as an adult. It is fair to sav that the severity of the cr-ime and the recidivism of the defendant are the most important factors in the Justice Department's evaluation of the need for a motion to transfer. 

 The process is triggered by the filing by the government of a motion to transfer. The motion must be accompanied bv written authorization from the Attornev General or his designate. A sample motion is given in §13.22 below. 

 If the motion is sufficient on its face, the court must then give notice to the parties as well as to the juvenile's parents or guardian of the date for hearing on the motion. At this hearing, the government must, in most cases, persuade the court bv a preponderance of the evidence that the transfer would be "in the interest of justice.' 

 The FJDA sets out several factors which the court must consider in making this determination. They are 

 1.  “the age and social background of the juvenile”;
 2.  “the nature of the Oeged offense"; 
 3. “the extent and nature of the juvenile's prior delinquency record'; 
 4.  “the juvenile's present intellectual development and psychological maturity"; 
 5.  “the nature of past treatment efforts and the juvenile's response to such efforts'; and 
 6.  “the availability of programs designed to treat the juvenile's behavioral problems.” 
        18 U.S.C. §5032. 

 In anticipation of such a hearing, the United States will petition the state Juvenile Court for an order releasing the accused's juvenile records. Also, a federal pretrial services officer may seek to interview the juvenile, and a psychiatric examination may be sought. The statute explicitly provides that anv statements made by the juvenile incident to such hearing preparation cannot be used in the subsequent criminal prosecution. 18 U.S.C. §5032; United States v. Spruille, 544 F.2d 303 (7th Cir. 1976). 

 The hearing should be closed to the public. Rigid rules of evidence do not apply to such a hearing. The government's evidence can include testimony of the investigative agent. the juvenile's records. testimony of his caseworkers, and psychiatric evaluations. 

 During the pendency of the motion to transfer. the accused has no right to plead guiltv to the pending delinquency charge. [-'nited States v. Haves, 590 F.2d 309 (9th Cir. 1979).  Presumably, the motion stays the running of the special 30-day speedy trial limit in custody cases. 

 If the court finds that transfer is in the interest of justice, the juvenile can then be proceeded against just as an adult. For examples of judicial reasoning on this question, see In re T. W., 652 F.Supp. 1440 (E.D.Wis. 1987); United States v. Dennison, 652 F.Supp. 211 (D.N.M. 1986). There is authority for a defendant's interlocutory appeal of an adverse finding. See United States v. A. W.J., 804 F.2d 492 (8th Cir. 1986). After such a finding, the government is free to seek a felony indictment from a grand jury. Upon return of the felony indictment, the government will move to dismiss the delinquency information. 

 If the motion to transfer is denied, trial proceeds on the pending delinquency charge. There is no statutory authority for a government appeal. 18 U.S.C. §3731.

 There is a limited category of cases in which the court must order prosecution as an adult on the governxnent's motion; no 'interest of justice" finding is needed. Mandatory adult prosecution arises when the government establishes (1) that the juvenile is at least 16 years of age, (2) that the juvenile is charged with a felony that involves physical force against the person of another, arson, or aircraft damage, and (3) the juvenile has previously been convicted of such a felony. 

C. [13.18] Sentencing

 A juvenile convicted as an adult is subject to the adult statutory penalties and to the application of the sentencing guidelines (for offenses after November 1, 1987). 


 Generally, it should be in the interest of a defendant to be proceeded against as a juvenile rather than as an adult. 

 In the non-aggravated case, the prosecutor should be receptive to plea discussions aimed at the use of these provisions for the rehabilitation of the defendant. Other obvious benefits to the accused are treatment, which is generally good in the federal system, and the ultimate absence of any record of conviction. The delinquency charge, and if possible the plea, must be entered before the defendant turns 21. 

 In the absence of an agreement with the prosecutors, counsel should assemble information on the background of the defendant that will convince the court that juvenile treatment is preferable. 



Federal Juvenile 
Law and Practice. 

            Cherry & Flynn 

@Copyright 1993 by William R. Coulson. All rights reserved. 

Juvenile Law and Practice - Supplement 

 II. Prosecution of a Juvenile for Delinquency 

  C. (13S.6] Arrest and Pretrial Custody 
  D. [13S.7] Certification by the United States Attorney
  E. [13S.8] Information Charging Juvenile Delinquency 
  G. [13S.10] Sentencing 
   1. [13S.11] Offenses Committed After November 1, 1987 

 III. Prosecution of a Juvenile as an Adult 

  B. [13S.17] Motion To Transfer 

Federal Juvenile Law and Practice                                138.8 
C. (13S.61 Arrest and Pretrial Custody Add at the end of the section: 
A juvenile is entitled to his own counsel; therefore, parental consent is 
not required for the juvenile to take particular judicial actions such as an appeal. United States v. M.LM., 932 F.2d 1016 (lat Cir. 1991). 

D. (13S.71 Certification by the United States Attorney Add at the end of the section: 
The certification is what creates subject-matter jurisdiction in the 

district court. United States v. Romulus, 949 P.2d 713 (4th Cir. 1991); United States v. Chambers, 944 P.2d 1253 (6th Cir. 1991). One case 

permitted certification to be filed at the close of the Government's case-in-chief in the adult prosecution. After the adult conviction, the case was remanded for a transfer hearing. Chambers, supra. United States v. Juvenile Male, 923 P.2d 614 (8th Cir. 1991), also gave the juvenile standing to contest the certification. 

E. [13S.8] Information Charging Juvenile Delinquency Add at the end of the section: 
Courts have held that before the information can be filed, the 

Government must either obtain the defendant's juvenile records or certify that there are none or none are unavailable. United States v. M.LM., 932 P.2d 1016 (Ist Cir. 1991); United States v. Brian N., 900 P.2d 218 (10th Cir. 1990); United States v. Juvenile Male, 923 F.2d 614 (1991), later proceeding, 956 F.2d 169 (8th Cir. 1992). 
If an arrested defendant lies about his age, any resulting delays can be excluded. United States v. Romulus, 949 F.2d 713 (4th Cir. 1991). 
Obviously, even the name of:the juvenile defendant is seeded. See United States v. R.L.C., 915 P.2d 320 (8th Cir. 1990). 

138.10                         Juvenile Law and Practice - Supplernent G. [13S.101 Sentencing Add at the end of the section: 
A finding of delinquency is appealable. United States V. M.LM., 932 
P.2d 1016 (Ist Cir. 1991); United States v. Juvenile Male, 939 F.2d 321 (6th Cir. 1991). 
1. [13S.11] OffensesCommittedAfterNovemberl,1987 Add at the end of the section: 
The maximum sentence that may be imposed cannot exceed the 
maximum sentence that the sentencing guidelines would impose on an adult offender. United States v. R.L.C, 915 P.2d 320 (8th Cir. 1990). Contra, United States v. Marco L., 868 F-2d 1121 (9th Cir. 1989). 
The sentence imposed on a juvenile could properly exceed that possible under state juvenile law. United States v. Juvenile Male, 939 F.2d 321 (6th Cir. 1991). 
111. PROSECUTION OF A JUVENILE AS AN ADULT B. [13S.171 Motion To Transfer Add at the end of the section: 
Case law is divided on whether conspiracy is a transferable offense. 

See In re Seated Case, 893 P.2d 363 (D.C.Cir. 1990). Contra, United States v. Juvenile Male, 923 P.2d 614 (8th Cir. 1991). 
There is authority that the court must make specific finding as to each of the factors enumerated in the statute. United States v. Rornuius, 949 F.2d 713 (4th Cir. 1991). 
Cases have noted that transfer must be established by a preponder- ance of the evidence. United States v. Parker, 95&F.2d 169 (8th Cir. 1992); United States v. Gerald N., 900 F.2d 189 (9th Cir. 1990) ("abuse of discretion" standard of review). 

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