Massachusetts law about the juvenile justice system

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on juvenile justice system law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

Child Requiring Assistance (CRA)

MGL c.119, § 21 Definitions

MGL c.119, §§ 39E-39I Child requiring assistance


12 to 18 between 12 and 18 years old

Delinquent children

MGL c.119, §§ 52-74 Juvenile justice for children between 12 and 18. See section 52 for definitions of “delinquent child” and “youthful offender”

MGL c.233, § 20 Except in certain limited circumstances, a parent cannot testify against their minor child

MGL c.276, §§ 100E-100U Lays out requirements for expungement of juvenile records

MGL c.279, § 24 Determination of sentence for (youthful) offender aged 14 through 17

Juvenile Court

Court rules


Selected cases

Comm. v. Baez, 480 Mass. 328 (2018)
Juvenile offenses can be used as predicate offenses for enhanced penalties.

Comm. v. Cole C., 92 Mass. App. Ct. 653 (2018)
Discusses in detail the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court over individuals who are indicted as youthful offenders after they turn 18.

Comm. v. J.A., a juvenile, 478 Mass. 385 (2017)
A juvenile cannot be indicted as a youthful offender based on charges of cruelty to animals and bestiality, "given that the language in G. L. c. 119, § 54, the youthful offender statute, allowing a juvenile to be tried as a youthful offender for an offense involving the infliction of "serious bodily harm," does not apply to animal as well as human victims."

Comm. v. Manolo M., 486 Mass. 678 (2021)
"[M]ultiple minor misdemeanors arising from the juvenile's first episode of minor misdemeanor misconduct must all be dismissed as a 'first offense.'"

Comm. v. Newton N., 478 Mass. 747 (2018)
"Where a complaint obtained by a police officer is supported by probable cause, a judge cannot dismiss the complaint prior to arraignment even when the judge determines that dismissal before arraignment would serve the best interests of the child and the interests of justice."

Comm. v. Nick N., 486 Mass. 696 (2021)
The rules of evidence in Commonwealth v. Durling, 407 Mass. 108, 114-119 (1990), apply to Wallace W. hearings. The Juvenile Court should promulgate rules for discovery in Wallace W. hearings to provide clarity going forward. 

Comm. v. Preston P., 483 Mass. 759 (2020)
Discussion of the differences between pretrial probation and pretrial conditions of release, and the standard of review for revoking pretrial probation.

Comm. v. Quinones, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 156 (2019)
"For Miranda purposes, a juvenile's age must be considered in determining whether the juvenile was subjected to the functional equivalent of police questioning."

Comm. v. Smith, 471 Mass. 161 (2015)
Going forward, 17 year olds "must be afforded a meaningful opportunity to consult with an interested adult before waiving Miranda rights."

Deal v. Commissioner of Correction, (Deal I) 475 Mass. 307 (2016); and Deal II, 478 Mass. 332 (2017)
Dept. of Correction must consider juvenile homicide offenders' suitability for minimum security classification on a case-by-case basis. Describes the classification process in great detail.

In the Matter of a Juvenile, 485 Mass. 831 (2020)
Due process requires that Juvenile Court judges stay transfer hearings pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 72A, until the criminal defendant becomes competent to stand trial.

Kenniston v. Dept. of Youth Services, 453 Mass. 179 (2009)
The SJC held that the law permitting DYS to hold 18 year olds for an additional 3 years if they "would be physically dangerous to the public" (G. L. c. 120, §§ 17-19) is unconstitutional "because it violates substantive due process requirements."

Millis Public Schools v. M.P., 478 Mass. 767 (2018)
CRA/Truancy. We conclude that a child "willfully fails to attend school" when he or she acts purposefully, such that his or her behavior arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior." The court vacated a CRA judgment "where nothing in the record suggested that the child's behavior exhibited problems or tendencies that could lead toward juvenile delinquency, and where nothing in the record showed that a modification of the child's custody arrangements would help improve the child's attendance record."

Ulla U. v. Commonwealth, 485 Mass. 219 (2020)
Discussion of transfer hearings and motions to dismiss for bad faith or inexcusable delay.

Wallace W. v. Commonwealth, 482 Mass. 789 (2019)
MGL c.119, § 52 requires dismissal of the first minor misdemeanor committed by a juvenile, not the first offense of each different minor misdemeanor. Case creates a court procedure to determine that a juvenile has already committed a first offense.


Comm. v. Perez, (Perez I) 477 Mass. 677 (2017)
"Where a juvenile is sentenced for a nonmurder offense or offenses and the aggregate time to be served prior to parole eligibility exceeds that applicable to a juvenile convicted of murder, the sentence cannot be reconciled with art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights unless, after a hearing considering the appropriate factors, the judge makes a finding that the circumstances warrant treating the juvenile more harshly for parole purposes than a juvenile convicted of murder."

Comm. v. Perez (Perez II), 480 Mass. 562 (2018)
Clarifies "the extraordinary circumstances requirement justifying longer periods of incarceration prior to eligibility for parole for juveniles who did not commit murder than for those who did."

Comm. v. Terrell, 486 Mass. 596 (2021)
A Juvenile Court judge can't order credit for time served ("preadjudication detention credit") when sentencing.

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655 (2013)
The SJC concluded "that the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on juveniles who are under the age of eighteen when they commit the crime of murder in the first degree is unconstitutional..."

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 471 Mass. 12 (2015)
Juvenile homicide offenders serving mandatory sentences of life without parole have a right to counsel at their initial parole hearing, including the right to have counsel appointed if they are indigent. They also have the right to "public funds, if they are indigent, in order to secure reasonably necessary expert assistance at their initial parole hearing." In addition, a juvenile homicide offender who is denied parole has a right to obtain judicial review of the parole board's decision through an action in the nature of certiorari, brought in the Superior Court.

Web sources

Child Requiring Assistance cases, Mass. Juvenile Court.
Find out what will happen in court, who may be involved, and what your rights are as a parent, legal guardian, or custodian in a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) case.

Guide on the disclosure of confidential information: Court information, Mass. Juvenile Court.

Massachusetts juvenile arrest procedures, effective July 13, 2018, Mass. Municipal Police Training Committee.
Arrest, detention, and bail procedures for children 12-18.

Overview of the juvenile justice system, Citizens for Juvenile Justice.
“This overview explores how Massachusetts children enter and exit the juvenile justice system, how they move through it, and how different groups of young people are impacted by the decisions our system makes for them.”

Quick reference on CRA (Child Requiring Assistance), Children's Law Center, June 2017.
A handy guide for child advocates in Massachusetts.

Print sources

Juvenile law, 2nd Ed. (Mass. Practice v.44-44A), Thomson/West, 2006 with supplements. 

Massachusetts juvenile delinquency and child welfare law sourcebook & citator, MCLE, annual. 


Last updated: November 15, 2022

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