This Note focuses on the negative effects of the “once an adult, always an adult” doctrine, one mechanism through which juveniles convicted of a crime can be transferred to adult court. The doctrine, enacted in a majority of states, provides that children who have been previously transferred to adult court by a judge or prosecutor, or because of statutory exclusion of certain crimes from juvenile jurisdiction, will be transferred for all subsequent crimes, regardless of severity.

When juveniles convicted of crimes are transferred to the adult court system, they are subject to a wide array of harsh punishments unavailable in the juvenile court system. Conviction in adult court can result in imprisonment with adult criminals, even past the age of eighteen, and permanent marks that will stigmatize young men and women and hinder chances to attend respectable schools or gain employment. Additionally, young men and women who are housed with adult inmates are at a greater risk for physical and sexual assault than other inmates, and are more likely to commit suicide than juveniles housed in juvenile detention centers.

The “once an adult, always an adult” doctrine is particularly troubling because it provides for a transfer to adult court based on the past act of a child, rather than the circumstances of the current crime charged. The doctrine fails to take into account widely recognized studies regarding the biological and social immaturity of juveniles, and their inability to accurately assess risk. Additionally, the doctrine flies in the face of studies indicating that juvenile justice punishments result in less recidivism and more rehabilitation of young law-breakers. This article argues that the “once an adult, always an adult” doctrine does more harm than good and advocates for the abolition or limitation of the doctrine.