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Massachusetts Juvenile Delinquency

The Juvenile Delinquency Code, established in the Commonwealth in 1906, can be found in Chapter 119 §§ 52-84 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) is the state’s juvenile justice organization, to whom juveniles may be committed to custody up to the age of 18-21. The DYS defines a juvenile delinquent is “between “7 and 17 years old who has committed a felony, a misdemeanor, or violated a city ordinance or town by-law.” The missions of the DYS, an agency within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, are crime prevention, youth custody, and youth rehabilitation.

Mass Gen. Laws Chapter 20 §2 authorizes the DYS to use medical, legal, psychiatric, psychological, social work and other services to carry out its duties. According the August 2011 DYS Public Information Packet, DYS was serving 1288 committed youth; 1097 of these youths were committed to DYS until age 18, while 191 youths were committed as youthful offenders until age 21. Although the number of committed juveniles to the DYS has decreased substantially in the last several years, laws (as detailed below) have also facilitated the transfer of youths to the more punitive adult legal system.

Juveniles can be charged with a host of offenses, from minor to murder. For example, juveniles may be charged with status offenses like truancy (running away from home), possessing alcohol underage, driving without a license, trespassing, and shoplifting. They may also face charges—now, often as an adult—of assault and battery, drug possession or distribution, firearms offenses, and manslaughter or murder. In the last couple decades, fear of juvenile crime led to a crackdown on juvenile punishments. In 1996, Massachusetts passed a new law—often known as the “Youthful Offender” statute—that, most notably, requires juveniles age 14 or older who are charged with murder to be treated as adults. The new statute also allows serious juveniles 14+ to receive an adult, juvenile (DYS), or combination sentence (DYS+ adult)—under the prosecutor’s discretion.

Thus, the juvenile justice system has now headed away from rehabilitation and in the direction of punishment. As a result, even stronger legal defense is needed today to protect the liberties of youthful offenders in Massachusetts. The criminal defense attorneys at the Greater Boston law firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, have over forty years of experience to guide them in representing juveniles’ rights.

Facing a juvenile charge in Massachusetts can be incredibly stressful and confusing for juveniles and their families. Along with immediate punishment, youth offenses can have a lasting impact on future educational opportunities, job applications and interviews, and housing applications. If you or your child has been charged with juvenile delinquency in Massachusetts, representation by a seasoned juvenile defense attorney is indispensable. At the Greater Boston Law Firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, our criminal defense team has the skill and knowledge that comes with over four decades of experience. Contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation, where we will explain your legal options and answer any legal questions you may have. We are available by phone at 617.492.3000 or at 800.481.6199 (toll free) around the clock and respond promptly to all emails received by the firm.

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