CJUS 310 Lecture Notes: Juvenile Court Process PRETRIAL, TRIAL, AND SENTENCING Prosecutors,

CJUS 310

Lecture Notes: Juvenile Court Process


Prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys are the key players in the juvenile court. The juvenile prosecutor is the attorney responsible for bringing the state’s case against the accused juvenile. The juvenile judge must ensure that the children and families who come before the court receive the proper help. Defense attorneys representing children in the juvenile court play an active and important part in virtually all stages of the proceedings.

Many decisions about what happens to a child may occur prior to adjudication. Due to personnel limitations, the juvenile justice system is not able to try every child accused of a crime or status offense. Therefore, diversion programs seem to hold greater hope for the control of delinquency. As a result, such subsystems as statutory intake proceedings, plea bargaining, and other informal adjustments are essential ingredients in the administration of the juvenile justice system.

Each year, thousands of youths are transferred to adult courts because of the seriousness of their crimes. This process, known as waiver, is an effort to remove serious offenders from the juvenile process, and into the more punitive adult system. Most juvenile experts oppose waiver because it clashes with the rehabilitative ideal, and has proven ineffective in reducing juvenile violence. Supporters argue that its increased use can help get violent juvenile offenders off the street, and they point to studies that show that, for the most part, transfer is reserved for the most serious cases and the most serious juvenile offenders.

Most jurisdictions have a bifurcated juvenile code system that separates the adjudication hearing from the dispositional hearing. Juveniles alleged to be delinquent have virtually all the constitutional rights given a criminal defendant at trial—except possibly the right to a trial by jury. Juvenile proceedings are generally closed to the public.

A number of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have influenced the handling of juveniles at the pre-adjudicatory and trial stages. In re Gault is the key legal case that set out the basic requirements of due process that must be satisfied in juvenile court proceedings. In Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles is prohibited, because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In Graham v. Florida, the Court put an end to the practice of life sentences, without the possibility of parole, for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes.

The major categories of dispositional choice in juvenile cases are community release, out-of-home placements, fines or restitution, community service, and institutionalization. Although the traditional notion of rehabilitation and treatment, as the proper goals for disposition, is being questioned, many juvenile codes do require that the court consider the least-restrictive alternative.

Many state statutes require that juvenile hearings be closed, and that the privacy of juvenile records be maintained. This is done to protect the child from public scrutiny, and to provide a greater opportunity for rehabilitation. This approach may be inconsistent with the public’s interest in taking a closer look at the juvenile justice system.


The Juvenile Court and Its Jurisdiction

Modern juvenile delinquency cases are handled as part of a criminal trial, court jurisdiction, or within the probate court.

In most jurisdictions, they are treated in the structure of family court or an independent juvenile court.

The independent juvenile court is a specialized court for children, designed to promote rehabilitation of youth.

Juvenile court is concerned with acting in the best interest of the child and in the best interest of public protection.

E. Court Case Flow

1. In 2011, almost 1.236 million delinquency cases were referred to juvenile court.

2. This is a 34 percent decrease from the peak year of 1997.

3. In 2011, 72% of delinquency cases involved a male and 19% involved a female.

4. 33 percent of the juvenile court population was made up of African American youth, although African American youth make up only 16% of the general population.

The Actors in the Juvenile Courtroom

The defense attorney represents the child in the juvenile court, and plays an active and important role in all stages of the proceedings.

Guardian ad litem may be appointed by the court: fulfills many roles, ranging from legal advocate to concerned individual working with parents and human service professionals.

Court-appointed special advocates (CASA) are volunteers who advise the court about child placement.

Public Defender Services for Children: an attorney who works in a public agency or has a contractual agreement as defense counsel to indigent defendants

Juvenile Prosecutor: represents the interest of the state and brings the case against the accused juvenile

The Juvenile Court Judge: the central character in the court; responsibilities have become more extensive and complex in recent years

Judges have extensive influence over other agencies of the court:


The Court Clerk

The Law Enforcement Officer

Office of the Juvenile Prosecutor

According to the parens patriae philosophy, judges must ensure that the necessary community resources are available so children and families can receive the proper care and help.

II. Juvenile Court Process

A. Release or Detain

1. After the decision is made to treat the case formally, a decision must be made to either release the child or detain in the temporary care of the state.

2. Detention can be a traumatic experience; facilities are prison-like, locked doors and barred windows.

3. Experts advocate that detention be limited to alleged offenders who require secure custody for the protection of themselves and others.

B. National Detention Trends

1. Juveniles are still being detained in just one out of every five delinquency cases (21 percent), with some variation across the major offense categories.

2. The typical delinquent detainee is male, over sixteen years of age, and charged with a violent crime.

C. New Approaches to Detention

1. Efforts have been ongoing to improve the process and conditions of detention.

2. Experts maintain that detention facilities should provide youth with education, visitation, private communications, counseling, continuous supervision, medical and health care, nutrition, recreation, and reading.

3. Detention should be reserved for youths who present a clear threat to the community

4. Alternatives to secure detention include:

a) Home monitoring

b) Home detention

Day-center electronic monitoring

High-intensity community supervision

Comprehensive case management programs

D. Restricting Detention in Adult Jails

1. A significant problem in juvenile justice is placing youths in adult jails.

2. Experts agree that placing children under the age of eighteen in any type of jail facility should be prohibited; they can be victimized, forced to live in squalid conditions, and subject to physical and sexual abuse.

3. In 1989, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was amended to require that states remove all juveniles from adult jails and lockups.

4. Federal guidelines require that juveniles in state custody be separated from adult offenders or the state could lose federal juvenile justice funds.

E. Removing Status Offenders

1. OJJDP has made deinstitutionalization of status offenders a cornerstone of its policy.

Bail for Children

Most states refuse juveniles the right to bail.

Juvenile proceedings are intended to be civil, not criminal, and detention is rehabilitative; children are released into parental custody.

Preventive Detention

U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that the state has a right to detain dangerous youth until their trial; the practice is called preventive detention.

The practice remains highly controversial since it may attach a stigma of guilt to a child who could be innocent.

The Intake Process

Refers to the screening of cases by the juvenile court system; enables assistance from community agencies without court intervention

A juvenile referral is received and a decision is made to file a petition, release the juvenile, place him/her under supervision, or refer him/ her elsewhere


One of the most important alternatives

Youth is placed into treatment program prior to formal trial and disposition in order to minimize their penetration into the justice system.

Avoids stigma and labeling.

The Petition

A complaint is the report made by the police or some other agency to the

court that initiates the intake process.

The Plea and Plea Bargaining

Permits a defendant to plead guilty to a less-serious charge, in exchange for an agreement by the prosecutor to recommend a reduced sentence to the court

Long debate over the appropriateness of plea bargaining in juvenile justice

Less common in juvenile courts than in adult courts; however, it is firmly entrenched in the juvenile process

III. Transfer to the Adult Court

A. Transfer process: transferring a juvenile offender from the jurisdiction of juvenile court to adult criminal court; also known as waiver, bind over or removal

1. Numbers have actually declined since they peaked in 1994.

B. Waiver procedures occur in one of three ways:

1. Concurrent jurisdiction

2. Statutory exclusion policies

3. Judicial waiver

C. Due Process in Transfer Proceedings

1. The standards for transfers are set by state statute.

2. The trend toward excluding serious violent offenses from juvenile court jurisdictions grew in response to the demand to get tough on crime.

3. Prosecutor discretion may occasionally be a more effective transfer mechanism than the waiver process.

D. Should Youths Be Transferred to Adult Court?

1. Most experts oppose waiver because it clashes with the rehabilitative ideal.

2. Waiver has advanced the criminalization of the juvenile court rather than the rehabilitative needs of the child; has interfered with the traditional mission of treatment and rehabilitation

Not one of the studies found that transfers produced lower violent crime rates or reduction in arrest rates

IV. Juvenile Court Trial

A. An adjudication hearing is held to determine the merits of the petition.

1. Adjudication hearing is comparable to an adult trial.

2. Case is resolved in one of three ways:

Judge makes a finding of fact that the child or juvenile is not delinquent or in need of supervision.

Judge makes a finding that the child or juvenile is delinquent or in need of supervision.

Judge dismisses the case because of insufficient or faulty evidence.

3. Delinquency finding is not the same thing as a criminal conviction.

B. Constitutional Rights at Trial

1. Due process must be satisfied in juvenile court proceedings.

2. Gault remains the key constitutional case in the juvenile justice system; reshaped the constitutional and philosophical nature of the juvenile court, made it more similar to the adult system.

3. In re Winship, “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof is required in juvenile delinquency adjudication hearings, a level equal to the requirements in adult system.

C. Disposition: the sentencing step of the juvenile justice process

1. The court orders treatment that is in the best interests of the child.

2. Adjudication and disposition hearings are bifurcated.

3. Dispositions have been based on the presumed needs of the child, and judges employ graduated sanctions for juveniles.

a) Immediate sanctions – nonviolent offenders, community diversion, day treatment

b) Intermediate sanctions – target repeat minor offenders

c) Secure care – reserved for repeat serious offenders and violent offenders

4. Probation is the disposition of choice, even in serious cases, and it has grown in recent years.

Most states and courts insist that the purpose must be rehabilitation and not punishment.

D. Juvenile Sentencing Structures

1. Practice has been to place children in the least detrimental alternative in order to foster the child’s growth and development.

2. Indeterminate sentence is used traditionally in many states.

3. Other states have passed laws creating mandatory sentences for serious juvenile offenders.

E. The Death Penalty for Juveniles

1. In March 2005, U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Roper v. Simmons, put an end to the practice of the death penalty for juveniles in the United States.

2. The Court ruled the juvenile death penalty was in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

3. At least 366 juvenile offenders have been executed since 1642.

F. Life without Parole for Juveniles

1. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch estimate that there are about 2,225 prisoners sentenced to life.

2. About 356 of them were between 13 and 15 years old at the time they committed their crimes.

3. It is estimated that just over one hundred prisoners committed non- homicide crimes.

4. Florida accounts for the overwhelming majority of these offenders.

G. The Child’s Right to Appeal

1. Juvenile courts normally restrict appeals to cases where the juvenile seeks review of a final order, or one that ends litigation.

2. The appellate process gives the juvenile the opportunity to have the case brought before a reviewing court.

3. Appellate review of a juvenile case is a matter of statutory right in each jurisdiction.

4. Majority of states do provide some method of statutory appeal.

H. Confidentiality in Juvenile Proceedings

1. Habeas corpus refers to a procedure for determining the validity of a person’s custody, it is used to challenge the custody of a child in detention or in an institution.

2. Much attention in recent years: open versus closed hearings, and privacy of juvenile records

3. Many legislatures have broadened access to juvenile records.

4. Supreme Court claimed that the juvenile’s interest in confidentiality was secondary to the constitutional right to confront adverse witnesses.

5. Privacy of Juvenile Records: can be opened by court order in many jurisdictions on the basis of statutory exception

Law enforcement personnel, the child’s attorney, parents or guardians, military personnel, public agencies such as schools, court-related organizations, and correctional institutions can gain access to the records

V. Future of the Juvenile Court

A. Over the years, the juvenile court has taken on more characteristics of the adult courts.

B. Treatment programs provided by the modern juvenile court play a central role in society’s response to the most serious delinquents.

C. Juvenile courts must ensure that these programs are indeed effective, including:

1. Awareness of up-to-date scientific evidence of effectiveness of court based programs

2. Diversion of cases that can be handled informally outside of the system

3. Disposition of cases to appropriate programs

4. Quality control

D. Juvenile court needs to be guided by a core set of rational and science-based principles such as “systematic assessments of culpability and treatment needs and a consistent balancing of punishment and treatment”.

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