State ex rel. T.J. v. Cundiff
T.J., a 17-year-old boy, was automatically charged in adult court in Missouri, despite the state’s recent implementation of Section 211.031.1(3), a statute that gives juvenile courts original jurisdiction over all cases involving youth under the age of 18. However, counties in Missouri are not uniformly enforcing this provision because of disputes over the perceived costs of implementation.
Juvenile Law Center, joined by National Juvenile Defender Center and Sentencing Project, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Missouri in support of T.J., arguing that immediate and consistent implementation of Section 211.031.1(3) is necessary to combat racial disparities and protect youth. Our brief argued that youth of color, particularly Black youth, are disproportionately prosecuted in the adult system, and that youth experience severe harm when charged as adults. We further argued that the financial concerns surrounding Section 211.031.1(3) are overstated and should not be a barrier to implementation, especially as Missouri’s juvenile legal system is already providing services to 17-year-old youth, and, in other states that have implemented similar policies, actual costs have been much less than projected.
The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the juvenile division did not have the statutory authority to adjudicate T.J.’s charged offenses. The Court held that Section 211.031.1(3) did not take effect until July 1, 2021, when sufficient funds were appropriated to expand the juvenile division’s services to 17-year-olds. Accordingly, the statute was not in effect at the time T.J. allegedly committed his offenses, and he was considered an adult pursuant to the statutory definition in effect at the time.
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