When a delinquency case is referred to juvenile court, an intake officer or prosecutor 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.
In 1995, more than half of all delinquency cases were handled formally (figure 3). Formal processing for delinquency referrals increased from 47% to 55% between 1986 and 1995. The increased number of cases referred to juvenile court intake and the greater likelihood of formal handling of these cases resulted in a 69% increase in the number of petitioned delinquency cases disposed by U.S. juvenile courts between 1986 and 1995 (table 10). The largest percentage increase was in the number of petitioned drug offense cases, which increased 176% from 1986 to 1995. The number of petitioned person offense cases increased 110%, petitioned property offense cases increased 38%, and petitioned public order offense cases grew 91%.
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 60% between 1986 and 1994 and then declined 17% in 1995. Compared with 1986, there were substantially more person and drug offense cases waived to criminal court in 1995 (table 11). In comparison, there were fewer property cases waived in 1995 than in 1986, and there was only a slight increase in public order cases.
Cases waived to criminal court in 1995 represented 1.0% of all petitioned delinquency cases (table 12). In 1986, the proportion was 1.3%, and it reached 1.5% in 1991 before dropping to the 1995 level. Generally, the cases most likely to be waived were those involving person offenses. However, from 1989 through 1992, drug offense cases were most likely to be waived. In fact, the proportion of petitioned drug offense cases waived reached 4.1% in 1991.
The offense profile of cases waived to criminal court changed considerably between 1986 and 1995 (figure 4). Prior to 1992, property offense cases made up 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 cases waived in nearly equal numbers. Since 1992, person offense cases have been the largest group of cases waived. In 1995, person offenses accounted for nearly half of all delinquency cases waived to criminal court (47%) and property offense cases dropped to their lowest proportion ever (34%).
Adjudication and disposition. Generally, an adjudicatory hearing is held in all formally petitioned delinquency cases not judicially waived to criminal court.5 During the hearing, the court determines whether a youth will be adjudicated as a delinquent. If so, the court then makes a dispositional decision that may include a fine, restitution, probation, commitment to a residential facility, referral to a treatment program, and/or community service.
In 1995, 56% of all formally processed delinquency cases resulted in adjudication (table 13). In 28% of these cases, the youth was placed out of the home in a residential facility (table 14). More than half (53%) of all formally adjudicated delinquency cases resulted in the juvenile being placed on formal probation (table 15). In 14% 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 (5%), the juvenile was adjudicated, but the case was then dismissed or the youth was otherwise released.
In 43% of the formally handled delinquency cases in 1995, the juvenile was not subsequently adjudicated delinquent. Most (60%) of these cases were dismissed by the court, but in 22% of the cases, the juvenile agreed to some form of probation. Approximately 3% of all nonadjudicated delinquency cases resulted in voluntary out-of-home placement. In 16% of nonadjudicated cases, the juvenile agreed to another informal disposition such as restitution, community service, or referral to an agency for services.