Adulthood is a legal designation conferred by the state. Socially, majority status represents an age of reason, rights, and responsibilities. United States citizens earn most measures of majority on their eighteenth birthdays when they are bestowed new statutory gains and freedoms. However, codes of permission, consent, privacy, and culpability vary by age across jurisdictions. Laws regarding juveniles' free movement are unevenly apportioned. For example, in certain jurisdictions, young people may not purchase alcohol until their twenty-first birthday, or may be vulnerable plaintiffs in a statutory rape case at 17 years of age, yet may be sentenced to death for crimes committed at age 15 (Cothern 2000; Snyder and Sickmund 1999). 2
A juvenile waiver to an adult court and statutory rape present two competing examples of laws regulating contemporary U.S. legal constructions of adulthood. Although these two statutes are distinct in their focus and purpose, both are based on assessments of the constitution of juveniles' abilities to make decisions for themselves and to reason as adults, as well as to receive benefits from and be responsible to a larger community.
In this chapter, I compare two bodies of law that govern differing domains of behavior, and both lead to legal conclusions about when youths are capable of reason and intent. The first concerns the finding of capacity or intent when youth commit certain crimes, a finding that may lead to prosecution in adult criminal court. The second body of statutes surrounds the age of heterosexual