Judicial Disposition/Sentencing Authority

Trend: State legislatures continue to experiment with blended and other sentencing options, while changes in purpose clauses impact juvenile court dispositions.

State Responses documented a trend by legislatures to make dispositions more offense-based as opposed to the more traditional, offender-based sanctions, with the goal of punishment or incapacitation rather than rehabilitation. This trend had resulted in dramatic shifts in judicial dispositional/sentencing practices in three areas: (1) imposition of "blended sentences," (2) imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, and (3) extension of juvenile court jurisdiction for dispositional purposes beyond the age of majority. All of these options apply to asubset of serious or violent juvenile offenders as specified by statute. In 1996 and 1997, legislatures continued to adopt these sentencing provisions, but changes tojuvenile court purpose clauses have altered the very foundation of the juvenile justice system with respect to dispositions (see sidebar Changes In Purpose).

Changes in Purpose Clause Have an Impact on Juvenile Court Dispositions

While most of the activity during the first half of the 1990's revolved around treating more juveniles as criminals, recently there has been an attempt to strike a balance between offender accountability, competency development, and public protection within the juvenile justice system. Often, lawmakers incorporate this "balanced approach" language into a new purpose clause that will have an impact on dispositions for serious and violent juvenile offenders as more courts and probation departments develop a range of sanctions at the local level. Efforts to implement balanced approach and/or restorative justice philosophies across the full spectrum of juvenile justice system interventions and incorporate victims and communities affected by juvenile crime, require a monumental task of system transformation. As of the end of the 1997 legislative session, 17 States had redefined their juvenile court purpose clauses to emphasize public safety, certain sanctions, and/or offender accountability.

Sources: Klein, A. 1996. The other revolution in juvenile justice legislative reform: Balanced restorative justice. Unpublished paper; Torbet, P., and Douglas, T. 1997 (October). Balanced and restorative justice: Implementing the philosophy. Pennsylvania Progress 4(3). Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.

Blended Sentencing

Blended sentencing statutes represent a dramatic change in dispositional/ sentencing options available to judges. Blended sentencing refers to the imposition of juvenile and/or adult correctional sanctions on serious and violent juvenile offenders who have been adjudicated in juvenile court or convicted in criminal court. The authors identified five basic models of blended sentencing; each applied to a subset of juvenile offenders specified by statute and usually defined by age and offense. In three of the models, the juvenile court has responsibility for adjudicating the case; in the remaining two models, the criminal court has jurisdiction, as follows:

bullet Juvenile -- Exclusive Blend: either a juvenile or adult sanction.
bullet Juvenile -- Inclusive Blend: both juvenile and adult sanctions.
bullet Juvenile -- Contiguous: first juvenile, then adult sanctions (see sidebar "Texas Studies").
bullet Criminal -- Exclusive Blend: either a juvenile or adult sanction.
bullet Criminal -- Inclusive Blend: both juvenile and adult sanctions.

Texas Studies the Impact of Its Tougher Juvenile Incarceration Policy

In 1987, the Texas legislature enacted a determinate sentencing law that is an example of the juvenile-contiguous blended sentencing model, whereby, for certain offenses the juvenile court may impose a sentence that may remain in effect beyond its extended jurisdiction. The application of determinate sentences in Texas has grown since the late 1980's. In 1995, the legislature expanded the number of offenses that qualify for the most severe sentences, and it added an additional crime in 1997.

Accompanying these changes, the legislature established a progressive sanctions framework for juvenile dispositions based upon the severity of the offense and prior offense history. Determinate sentences acquired the status of the most severe tier of a seven-level system of progressive sanctions. The legislature made application of the progressive sanctions guidelines voluntary but required that deviations be reported to the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. It also required the Criminal Justice Policy Council (CJPC) to analyze and report on the implementation of the guidelines.

In October 1997, CJPC issued a report that profiles the offenders disposed by juvenile courts under the determinate sentencing procedure. Between 1990 and 1996, the number of juveniles committed to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) with determinate sentences more than quadrupled from 48 to 207, representing approximately 8% of all TYC commitments compared with 2% in 1990. These cases received average sentences ranging from 8 years for aggravated assault to 16 years for murder.

Source: Fabelo, T. 1997. Determinate Sentencing: Examining Growing Use of the Tougher Juvenile Incarceration Penalty. Austin, TX: Criminal Justice Policy Council.

At the end of the 1995 legislative session, 17 States had one or more blended sentencing options in place. (Note: West Virginia's 1985 criminal-exclusive blended sentencing statute was previously omitted.) Two years later, Virginia enacted another blended sentencing model (criminal-inclusive) for violent juvenile felony offenders, Massachusetts modified age/offense criteria for its blended sentencing option, and three States (Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma) enacted new blended sentencing provisions:

bullet Iowa passed a youthful offender law that represents the criminal-inclusive model.
bullet Kansas passed an extended jurisdiction juvenile law -- an example of the juvenile-inclusive model.
bullet Oklahoma passed a youthful offender law similar to the criminal-exclusive model.

Mandatory Minimum Commitment Sentences

For the most part, mandatory minimum sentences are applied to serious or violent juvenile offenders tried as adults in criminal court. In 1997, the Oregon legislature retreated somewhat from earlier mandatory minimum prescriptions for these cases (see sidebar "Oregon Retreating"). Only Arizona enacted laws requiring juvenile court judges to impose a mandatory sentence (see sidebar, "Arizona Juvenile Justice System"). In 1996 and 1997, legislatures also adopted juvenile court sentencing guidelines (see sidebar, "Juvenile Court Sentencing Guidelines").

Oregon Retreating Somewhat From Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Provisions for Juveniles

In 1995, the Oregon legislature fundamentally rewrote the mission statement of the juvenile justice system. The legislation, known as Senate bill (S.) 1, changed the purpose of the juvenile justice system from a child welfare approach to a system that promotes accountability, responsibility, and punishment. Among the many changes that were enacted in 1995, the expanded use of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines set forth in Ballot Measure 11 gave strength to the State's new emphasis on punishment and accountability.

The provision required that any juvenile age 15, 16, or 17 at the time of the offense who is charged with committing murder, first- or second-degree assault, or first- or second-degree robbery must be tried as an adult in criminal court. Conviction for such an offense would result in a mandatory minimum sentence, varying in length from 5 to 25 years, depending on the crime. Any youth convicted of one of these offenses would be placed in the physical custody of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) while legal custody would remain with the Department of Corrections (DOC). OYA can keep an offender until age 25, after which the youth may be placed in the physical custody of adult corrections (DOC).

However, with the passage of S. 1049 in 1997, Oregon showed early signs of a retreat from mandatory minimums by making several adjustments. Essentially, juveniles convicted of second-degree robbery, second-degree assault, or second-degree kidnaping may receive sentences other than the mandatory minimum if certain conditions are met. The criteria to be considered vary by the offense and include factors such as whether the victim was physically injured, whether a deadly weapon was used, and whether this was a juvenile's first offense. If not a first offense, the number and type of prior convictions are taken into account. Upon consideration of such criteria, the sentencing judge may deviate from the mandatory minimums spelled out in Ballot Measure 11.

Arizona Juvenile Justice System Still Intact but With Expanded Transfer Provisions

In November 1996, voters approved an amendment to the Arizona constitution known as Proposition 102, the Stop Juvenile Crime Initiative. The amendment authorized the legislature or the people to enact by initiative or referendum substantive and procedural laws regarding all proceedings and matters affecting juveniles. The amendment was required so that new transfer laws would not be challenged for being unconstitutional. As a result, Senate bill (S.) 1446, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, became law effective July 21, 1997, and implemented many provisions of the initiative. Whereas, prior to 1997, the State had only discretionary and presumptive waiver provisions, S. 1446 created the following:

bullet Statutory exclusion for 15-, 16-, or 17-year-olds charged with violent crime (murder, sexual assault, armed robbery, drive-by shooting, discharging a firearm at a structure, and aggravated assault with serious injury or use of a deadly weapon) or if the juvenile had two prior felony adjudications and was charged with any third felony.
bullet Direct file for 14-year-olds charged with a violent crime or if arrested for any third felony.
bullet Chronic offender classification with procedures for notice of possible consequences, dispositions, and determination of whether prior offenses occurred.
bullet Reverse waiver, where, at a pretrial hearing, a juvenile does not qualify as a chronic felony offender.
bullet Once an adult, always an adult, where, if a juvenile was previously tried and convicted in criminal court, any future offenses involving that juvenile will be tried in adult court.
bullet Proceedings and records open to the public.
bullet Mandatory sentencing, where, a juvenile age 14 and older adjudicated for any second felony in juvenile court must either serve mandated juvenile detention time, be incarcerated in the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, or be placed under juvenile intensive supervision. The juvenile also may be tried as an adult.

The juvenile court retained its discretionary waiver provision over any juvenile felony offender. In addition, the legislature appropriated funds for the purpose of providing short-term detention for juveniles on intensive probation, for expanding the juvenile intensive supervision and progressively increasing sanction programs, and for investigating and prosecuting juvenile gang offenses.

Juvenile Court Sentencing Guidelines in Two States

In 1997, the Utah legislature provided for the application of juvenile sentencing guidelines when preparing a dispositional report and recommendation in a delinquency action. A commission was appointed to:

"develop guidelines and propose recommendations to the legislature, the governor and the State Judicial Council about sentencing and release of juvenile and adult offenders in order to:

"1) respond to public comment;

2) relate sentencing practices and correctional resources;

3) increase equity in criminal sentencing;

4) better define responsibility in criminal sentencing; and

5) enhance the discretion of sentencing judges while preserving the role of the . . . Youth Parole Authority."

The probation officer is to consider the juvenile sentencing guidelines when preparing the dispositional report and recommendations. In addition to determining the offender's level of current and previous offense history and corresponding sentence, probation officers are to consider a list of aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The Utah Court Administrator's Office is testing a computer-generated juvenile sentencing guideline notice to assist officers in reviewing a juvenile's prior record.

In 1997, the Wyoming legislature established guidelines for progressive sanctions for adjudicated delinquent youth. Their purpose is to:

1) ensure that juvenile offenders face uniform and consistent conse- quences and punishments that correspond to the seriousness of each offender's current and prior offense history, special treatment or training needs and effectiveness of prior interventions;

2) balance public protection and rehabilitation while holding offenders accountable;

3) permit flexibility in the decisions made;

4) consider the juvenile offender's circumstances; and

5) improve juvenile justice planning and resource allocation by ensuring uniform and consistent reporting of disposition decisions."

The new law describes the five sanction levels, the procedures for applying each, and guidelines for dispositions of an offender's subsequent adjudications. It also lists juvenile court sanctions common to all levels and specific sanctions relating to each individual level.

Extended Jurisdiction

Every juvenile code sets an upper age of original juvenile court jurisdiction. All States also set an age to which the juvenile court's jurisdictions may be extended. Usually, such provisions allow the juvenile court judge to commit a juvenile to the juvenile corrections department for a longer period of time than the court's original jurisdiction, typically to age 21. In 1996 and 1997, five States (Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Tennessee) increased the age for extended juvenile court jurisdiction, typically for a subset of serious and violent juvenile offenders.

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State Legislative Responses to Violent Juvenile Crime: 1996-97 Update Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  November 1998