Juveniles and Criminal Justice


In the District of Columbia, a juvenile is defined as an individual under the age of 18 (DC Code § 16–2301).  In general, the DC Office of the Attorney General handles prosecutions of juveniles accused of committing violent crimes. However, a juvenile 16-18 years old who is charged with certain violent crimes can be prosecuted as an adult, in which case the prosecution is handled by the DC United States Attorney’s Office. (DC Code § 16–2301). In addition, the DC United States Attorney’s Office handles prosecutions when the juvenile is accused of violating a federal law (as opposed to the DC Criminal Code).

DC juvenile justice system explained by DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services

DC Juvenile Justice System at a Glance (Criminal Justice Coordinating Council) [PDF]

DC Office of the Attorney General: Juvenile Section

Confidentiality of Juvenile Records:  DC Code § 16–2333, § 16–2333.01

MPD Biannual Reports on Juvenile Arrests


Alternatives to Court Experience (ACE)

“The Alternatives to Court Experience (ACE) is a program run by the District’s Department of Human Services. Juvenile prosecutors at OAG [DC Office of Attorney General] divert appropriate youth from the justice system to ACE, where program specialists comprehensively assess each child’s needs for services and supports. The assessment measures each child’s stress, trauma and behavioral needs. ACE coordinators use this evaluation and provide an individually tailored program of wrap-around services that will help each child achieve success and avoid reoffending. These services include things like family and individual therapy, mentoring, tutoring, mental-health treatment, recreation and school supports.” (DC OAG website)

Alternatives to the Court Experience Program Creates Second Chances for Youth Offenders (DC Department of Human Services, June 14, 2016)


DC Code §§ 24-901 to 24-907

Allows for shorter sentences for some crimes (including an opportunity to avoid mandatory prison time for certain violent gun crimes) and an opportunity for offenders to have their convictions expunged from the public record.

“Second-Chance City”

This Washington Post series examines issues related to repeat violent offenders in the District of Columbia, including the application of the Youth Rehabilitation Act.

Part I:   How an accused rapist kept getting second chances from the D.C. justice system (Washington Post, May 14, 2016)

Part II:  How an inmate who repeatedly threatened to rape his guards ended up on a bus back to D.C. (Washington Post, July 29, 2016)

Part III:  Second-chance law for young criminals puts violent offenders back on D.C. streets (Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2016)

Part IV:  The crimes against them were terrifying, but the judicial system made it worse (Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2016)

Part V:  He says he robbed 100 people in D.C. Could he have been stopped before he killed? (Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2016)

Part VI:  In D.C., the federal government gives released criminals many chances to fail (Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2016)

Related News Coverage:

D.C. leaders agree to reform Youth Act (Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2016)

Related Opinion Pieces:

Second chances: More harm than good? (Letter to the Editor from ANC Commissioner Denise Krepp) (Dec. 7, 2016)

Should young violent offenders get a second chance? (WaPo Editorial Board, Dec. 11, 2016)

Muriel Bowser’s joke response to a Post investigation  (Colbert King, Dec. 26, 2016)

D.C.’s criminal justice system is a threat to public safety (Colbert King, Dec. 30, 2016)

D.C.’s ‘beyond broken’ criminal-justice system is an outrage (WaPo Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2016)

The Shameful Washington Post Series on the Youth Rehabilitation Act (Capitol Hill Corner, Dec. 30, 2016)


In DC, a juvenile and/or the juvenile’s guardian may be ordered to pay restitution of up to $10,000 – i.e. money to compensate victims for the expenses they incurred due to the child’s delinquent act – as part of the disposition in any case in which the court finds a child has committed a delinquent act and during or as a result of the commission of that delinquent act has:

(A) Stolen, damaged, destroyed, converted, unlawfully obtained, or substantially decreased the value of the property of another;
(B) Inflicted personal injury on another, requiring the injured person to incur medical, dental, hospital, funeral, or burial expenses, or lost wages; or
(C) Caused the victim of the delinquent act to incur reasonable counseling or other mental health expenses from a licensed health care provider if the delinquent act involved personal injury, child or sexual abuse, robbery, or burglary.

DC Code § 16–2320.01(a) – (c).

If the liable party is financially unable to pay restitution, the court may order him or her to perform community service or some other non-monetary service of equivalent value in lieu of restitution.  DC Code § 16–2320.01(i).


In the following line of cases, the United States Supreme Court has held that juveniles are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing because of their “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change.”

Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016)

No juvenile who commits murder or another serious crime can be sentenced to life without parole unless it is clear that the youth is doomed to a life of crime — that is, is so “corrupt” as to lack any capacity for reform, the Supreme Court ruled by a six-to-three vote on Monday. The decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, expanding on a major ruling four years ago, will also provide a chance for early release of a thousand or more inmates whose life sentences are now unconstitutional but were valid when imposed years earlier. (www.scotusblog.com)

Miller v. Alabama (2012)

States — and the federal government — that allow life prison sentences without a chance of release for minors who commit murder are now on notice, from the Supreme Court, that they may have a hard time justifying any such sentence that is actually imposed. In a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, the Court left open the possibility that such sentences could still be imposed, even as it barred making such a sentence mandatory in all cases of homicides by youths under age 18. At a minimum, any life-without-parole sentence for an adolescent murderer will get very heavy scrutiny if it goes to the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Court said it expects such a sentence to be uncommon from here on. (www.scotusblog.com)

Graham v. Florida (2010)

In state prisons scattered across ten states, and in a handful of federal penitentiaries, a group of 129 prisoners on Monday gained a new constitutional right from the Supreme Court, but not one of them yet knows whether the ruling will lead to freedom. Each of them, convicted as minors and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of release, learned that it would no longer be possible for any juvenile to get that sentence in the future if the crime did not involve murder. But the Court did not rule that any of those 129 must now be released, or even that any of them must be re-sentenced. That was not what they won.

Instead, each of the 129 must be given some chance to show, at some point in the future, that they have matured enough while in prison that they might then be ruled “fit to rejoin society” (in the Court’s phrase) rather than staying in prison for the rest of their lives. And, while every other juvenile who commits a serious “non-homicide” crime from now on has won a right not to be sentenced to life without potential release; the decision leaves open the possibility that conviction for such a juvenile might lead to a definite prison sentence of perhaps 40 or more years, thus stretching their confinement long into the future, perhaps to old age. (www.scotusblog.com)

Roper v. Simmons (2005)

“[T]he United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18. The Court ruled that a death sentence imposed on a minor violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In his opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote, ‘When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the state can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the state cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.'” (www.fairsentencingofyouth.org)