Line
Case Processing

When a delinquency case is referred to juvenile court, an intake officer, prosecutor, or judge determines whether to handle the case formally or informally. Formal handling involves the filing of a petition requesting that the court hold an adjudicatory or waiver hearing. Informal case handling is conducted entirely at the juvenile court intake level, without a petition and without an adjudicatory or waiver hearing.

Figure 3: Juvenile Court Processing of Delinquency Cases, 1996
 
Figure 3
 
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding.

In 1996, more than half of all delinquency cases were handled formally (figure 3). The proportion of delinquency cases that were formally processed increased from 47% to 56% between 1987 and 1996. The increased number of cases referred to juvenile court intake and the greater likelihood of formal handling of these cases resulted in a 78% increase in the number of petitioned delinquency cases disposed by juvenile courts in the United States between 1987 and 1996 (table 10). The largest percentage increase was in the number of petitioned drug offense cases, which increased 183% from 1987 to 1996. The number of petitioned person offense cases increased 121%, petitioned public order offense cases increased 104%, and petitioned property offense cases increased 44%.

Table 10: Percent Change in Petitioned Delinquency Cases, 1987-1996
 
Table 10
 
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. Percent change calculations are based on unrounded numbers.

Waiver to criminal court. One of the first actions taken during the juvenile court intake process is determining whether a case should be processed in the criminal justice system rather than in juvenile court. Most States have more than one mechanism for transferring cases to criminal court. In an increasing number of States, cases that meet certain age and offense criteria are excluded by statute from juvenile court jurisdiction and are thus filed directly in criminal court. In some States, statutes give prosecutors discretion to file certain juvenile cases directly in criminal court. In most States, cases referred to juvenile court that meet certain criteria may be transferred to criminal court upon the authorization of the juvenile court judge. In such cases, the judge may waive the juvenile court's jurisdiction over the case, thus referring it to criminal court for prosecution. This Bulletin analyzes only those cases transferred from juvenile court to criminal court by judicial waiver.

The number of delinquency cases judicially waived to criminal court grew 73% between 1987 and 1994, then decreased 15% by 1996. Compared with the number in 1987, there were substantially more person and drug offense cases waived to criminal court in 1996 and slightly fewer property offense cases (table 11).

Table 11: Percent Change in Petitioned Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 1987-1996
 
Table 11
 
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. Percent change calculations are based on unrounded numbers.

The estimated 10,000 delinquency cases waived to criminal court in 1996 represented 1.0% of all petitioned delinquency cases (table 12). In 1987, the proportion was 1.2%, and it reached 1.5% in 1991 before dropping to the 1996 level. In general, the cases most likely to be waived were those involving person offenses. However, from 1989 through 1992, drug offense cases were the most likely cases to be waived. In fact, the proportion of petitioned drug offense cases waived reached 4.1% in 1991.

Table 12: Percentage of Petitioned Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 1987, 1992, and 1996
 
Table 12
 

The offense profile of cases waived to criminal court changed considerably between 1987 and 1996 (figure 4). Prior to 1992, property offense cases accounted for the largest share of waived cases. For example, in 1987, property offense cases made up 55% of waived cases and person offense cases made up the next largest share (28%). In 1992, the tide began to turn, with person and property offense cases waived in nearly equal numbers. Since 1992, person offense cases have been the largest group of cases waived. By 1995, person offense cases accounted for 47% of all waived delinquency cases and property offense cases accounted for 34%. Because of the increase in property offense cases waived in 1996 and the corresponding decline in waived person offense cases, person offenses represented 43% of all delinquency cases waived to criminal court in 1996 and property offense cases accounted for 37%. If this trend continues among cases judicially waived to criminal court, property offense cases will once again outnumber person offense cases.

Figure 4: Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court, 1987-1996
 
Figure 4
 

Adjudication and disposition. An adjudicatory hearing is available in all formally petitioned delinquency cases not judicially waived to criminal court.5 During the hearing, the judge (or a jury) determines whether a youth committed the delinquent act(s) charged. If so, the court then makes a dispositional decision that may include a fine, restitution, probation, commitment to a residential facility (secure or nonsecure), referral to a treatment program, and/or community service.

Table 14: Percentage of Adjudicated Delinquency Cases Placed Out of Home, 1987, 1992, and 1996
 
Table 14
 

In 1996, 58% of all formally processed delinquency cases resulted in an adjudication of delinquency (table 13). In 28% of these cases, the youth was placed out of the home in a residential facility (table 14). More than half (54%) of all formally adjudicated delinquency cases resulted in formal probation for the juvenile (table 15). In 13% of formally adjudicated delinquency cases, the court ordered some other sanction, such as requiring the juvenile to pay restitution or a fine, participate in some form of community service, or enter a treatment or counseling program. In a small number of cases (4%), the juvenile was adjudicated but was released with no further sanction ordered.

Table 15: Percentage of Adjudicated Delinquency Cases Placed on Formal Probation, 1987, 1992, and 1996
 
Table 15
 

In 41% of formally handled delinquency cases in 1996, the juvenile was not subsequently adjudicated delinquent. Most (60%) of these cases were dismissed by the court, but in 20% of the cases, the juvenile voluntarily agreed to some form of probation. Approximately 2% of nonadjudicated delinquency cases resulted in voluntary out-of-home placement. In 18% of nonadjudicated cases, the juvenile agreed to another voluntary disposition such as restitution, community service, or referral to an agency for services.

Line

Offenders in Juvenile Court, 1996Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  July 1999