Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Criminal Laws Get Major Update for 17-year-old Defendants

Facing criminal charges is never an easy time in a person’s life, even for those who have experience in the criminal justice system due to a long rap sheet. The confusion, uncertainty, and fear are likely even more pronounced, however, for juveniles who face serious felony charges that could land them in jail for the rest of their lives. While a 17-year-old must wait to vote and buy cigarettes, until recently in Massachusetts, he or she could be charged and sentenced for crimes as an adult. Recent changes to Massachusetts law update criminal procedure in regards to the gray-area that 17-year-old offenders used to face, providing clarity to young offenders and their juvenile delinquency defense attorneys.


According to, until just this month, 17-year-olds in Massachusetts could be considered adults when facing criminal charges in criminal court. The adult status placed onto a young person extended to all aspects of criminal procedure, including arraignment and sentencing. This meant that 17-year-olds could face the same sentences as adults, and could be placed in adult prisons and jails. It also meant that the chances for rehabilitative and other services provided through the juvenile justice system, were not available for these young but serious criminals.

States throughout the nation have been reviewing criminal procedural laws in regards to 17-year-olds, and many have already passed legislation ending the severe practice of considering them as adults. With 38 states already extending exclusive juvenile jurisdiction to 17-year-olds, Massachusetts became the 39th state to do so on September 18. The legislation, introduced by several legislative members, as well as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, gained bipartisan support and passed this legislative session. Governor Patrick signed the bill into law on Wednesday, noting that he believed it was a great thing that 17-year-olds will no longer be treated as adults when it comes to criminal classification.

Under the new law, if 17-year-olds are convicted of certain violent crimes, a juvenile court judge can still impose an adult sentence. The Milford Massachusetts Patch website notes that juvenile cases—which now include those cases involving 17-year-old defendants—will be heard before a juvenile court judge, and juveniles will be in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. This is a major change to the criminal procedure laws that used to allow 17-year-olds to be heard by criminal court judges, and be sentenced to serve jail time in adult facilities. 17-year-olds, however, don’t get a free pass out of jail, or lighter sentence in some cases. In the case of certain serious and violent crimes, a juvenile can still be sentenced as an adult if the judge imposes an adult sentence.

Although it is clear that 17-year-olds will be treated as 17-year-olds under Massachusetts criminal laws, it is important to note that juvenile charges are seriously prosecuted. A juvenile conviction may result in severe penalties and consequences, and can change a young person’s life forever. If you have been charged with violating Massachusetts criminal laws, you should immediately seek out an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the offices of Edward R. Molari today for a confidential consultation.