Between 1988 and 1995, transfer laws in Utah varied from (1) waiver and concurrent jurisdiction to (2) waiver and concurrent jurisdiction plus a limited statutory exclusion to (3) an arrangement that included only the waiver and limited statutory exclusion provisions. Prior to 1981, Utah relied on a broad judicial waiver provision that allowed waiver for any youth age 14 or older who had been charged with a felony. Under that provision, the State had an average of nine waivers per year between 1967 and 1980. In 1981, the legislature enacted a concurrent jurisdiction provision that allowed prosecutors to file directly in criminal court any case involving a youth age 16 or 17 charged with a first-degree or capital felony.
Following two homicides committed by juveniles in the summer of 1993, a special session of the Utah legislature was called to address juvenile crime. In the fall of 1993, transfer provisions were modified to exclude youth from juvenile court if they were 16 years of age or older and had been charged with aggravated murder.
Using the concurrent jurisdiction provision, prosecutors filed murder charges in criminal court against a youth named Mohi in September 1993. The Mohi murder case ultimately resulted in a constitutional challenge to Utah’s concurrent jurisdiction provision. In 1995, the State Supreme Court found the provision unconstitutional, and it was later repealed. Throughout these changes in law, however, Utah relied primarily on its judicial waiver provision to transfer youth to criminal court.
This study focused on cases that began in juvenile court in which the prosecutor requested a judicial waiver. More specifically, the study considered cases in which the judicial waiver decision was made between 1988 and 1995. Information on these cases was captured in the juvenile court statewide automated case tracking system maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts. This system contains information on all cases in a youth’s career and the disposition of each case. In addition, the State’s youth corrections agency shares the juvenile court’s information system. The system therefore contains all information on a youth’s prior placements. Court administrators use these data extensively to investigate a wide range of issues, including juvenile waivers.
The Administrative Office of the Courts also maintains an automated case tracking system for the criminal court. Because the juvenile and criminal court systems are housed in the same facility, extracting information on the criminal court’s response to transferred cases is not an administrative or a technical problem. The Department of (Adult) Corrections has always been very cooperative when the Administrative Office of the Courts requested data on transferred youth for research studies.
Using these data sources, the Administrative Office of the Courts documented the case processing characteristics of waiver request cases between 1988 and 1995. Data were captured on waived cases and cases retained by the juvenile court. Data were extracted on cases considered for waiver and on juveniles’ court histories. Data elements included an offender’s birth date, sex, and race; offenses petitioned, waived, or adjudicated; disposition of criminal court cases; and sentencing information.
To obtain information on incident characteristics not included in the automated files (e.g., victim characteristics; the presence or use of a weapon; and an offender’s gang involvement, relative responsibility in an incident, or relation-ship to the victim), data were extracted from paper files housed at juvenile courts around the State. Juvenile court clerks were given the names of the juveniles and asked to locate files (which were often in offsite storage). Project researchers then went from court site to court site around the State to read the files and code the information onto data collection forms.
Criminal court information on waived cases was also collected, along with information on any criminal court cases that took place after the waiver decision. These data were manually extracted from multiple automated criminal court databases and from microfiche record storage. Some desired criminal court information (e.g., predisposition custody dates, bail amounts) was not available in criminal court files.
Although Utah did not waive a large number of cases in the period studied, the data collected on waiver incidents and court history support a study of the numerous factors associated with the waiver decision.
During the 8 years from 1988 through 1995, Utah juvenile courts considered requests to waive 225 youth to criminal court. These juveniles were predominantly male (96 percent), most were non-Hispanic whites (57 percent), and nearly 70 percent were age 17 or older at the time the case was referred to court (table 9).4
Like the juveniles for whom waiver was requested in South Carolina, many juveniles in Utah’s waiver request cases had accrued long offense histories with the juvenile court. Most of the waiver requests involved youth with at least one formally handled referral prior to the waiver request case, and most had at least one prior adjudication. However, as shown in table 10, less than half had any prior court-ordered probation placements or had ever been ordered to residential placement, and none of the waiver request cases involved juveniles who had been the subject of previous waiver requests.
The offense profile of waiver request cases in Utah shows that the majority of juveniles had been charged with serious person or serious property offenses (table 11). However, nearly 4 out of 10 had been charged with less serious offenses. Aggravated assault was the most common charge, followed by burglary.
Analyses of other characteristics of the
incident leading to the waiver request provide an understanding of these
cases and the waiver decision process (table
In 42 percent of the waiver request incidents during the study period, the juvenile involved did not have a weapon. Juveniles in 32 percent of incidents had a firearm, and in 26 percent of incidents, juveniles had a weapon other than a firearm. Seventy-three percent of the juveniles who had a weapon used it during the incident; the remainder merely carried or brandished it. In 20 percent of waiver request incidents, one or more victims suffered a major injury requiring medical treatment.
Overall, the juvenile court in Utah approved 76 percent of waiver requests (171 of 225) from 1988 through 1995. The juvenile court was significantly less likely to approve waiver requests in cases involving white juveniles than in cases involving nonwhite youth (table 13). The court was as likely to waive cases involving offenders younger than 16 as those involving older offenders. This finding is contrary to expectations, given that amenability criteria tend to result in a greater likelihood of waiver for older youth (who have more time to accrue offenses and be judged no longer amenable to juvenile court intervention). With respect to amenability issues, the study also found that juveniles with five or more prior formally handled cases were somewhat more likely to be waived than juveniles with one, two, three, or four prior cases (although the difference was not statistically significant). However, the juvenile court was as likely to waive juveniles with no prior formally handled cases as those with five or more prior formal cases.
Similarly, the court was as likely to waive juveniles with no previous adjudications as those with five or more prior adjudications. Waiver, however, was less likely for juveniles with one to four prior adjudications.
A similar pattern was found when placement data were analyzed. Waiver was as likely for juveniles with no prior court-ordered residential placements as it was for those with three or more previous placements. Waiver was less likely for juveniles with one or two previous placements. These patterns indicate that factors other than juvenile court history affected the waiver decision.
The study also revealed a relationship between offense seriousness and the decision to approve a waiver request (table 14). The court was significantly more likely to approve waiver requests for juveniles charged with serious person offenses than for juveniles charged with other offenses. Among the less serious offense categories, drug and public order cases were somewhat more likely to be waived than less serious person or property cases.
Characteristics of the incident resulting in the waiver request were also related to waiver decisions (table 15). Waiver was slightly more likely for juveniles who had a weapon at the time of their incident than for those who did not have a weapon. Waiver was significantly more likely if the crime victim suffered major injury. Although incidents involving multiple offenders were slightly more likely to lead to waiver, gang-motivated incidents were not more likely to result in waiver.
Further analyses provide an explanation for the high proportion of first-time offenders approved for waiver (85 percent). Cases stemming from incidents that involved use of a weapon and serious injury to one or more victims were significantly more likely to result in waiver (87 percent) than cases stemming from other types of incidents, regardless of offender characteristics (70 percent). First-time offenders accounted for 17 percent of incidents involving weapon use and victim injury. Such incidents, however, accounted for 42 percent of cases involving first-time offenders. For cases not involving these types of incidents, the juvenile court was significantly more likely to waive juveniles with long court histories (i.e., those who had five or more prior formal cases) than those with shorter court histories. Waiver requests were approved for 87 percent of cases involving youth who used a weapon and seriously injured one or more victims, for 81 percent of other cases involving youth who had five or more prior formal cases, and for 62 percent of other cases involving youth who had four or fewer prior formal cases (table 16).
The outcomes of cases waived to criminal court in Utah during the study period were compared with outcomes of cases retained in juvenile court (table 17). This comparison revealed that the most common disposition for both groups was confinement; however, a significantly greater proportion of waived cases than nonwaived cases resulted in incarceration. Correspondingly, probation was used as a disposition less often in transferred cases. Few cases in either group were dismissed or otherwise released. As in South Carolina, this dispositional pattern is consistent with the fact that more serious cases and youth less amenable to juvenile court sanctions are being transferred to criminal court.
4 Cases that were initiated in criminal court were not included in the study.