Case Processing

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%.

Table 10: Percent Change in Petitioned Delinquency Cases,
1986 - 1995

 

Number of Cases

Percent Change

Most Serious Offense 1986 1991 1995 1986 - 95 1991 - 95
Delinquency 554,000 702,700 938,400 69% 34%
Person 104,300 152,000 219,100 110 44
Property 320,500 396,200 443,000 38 12
Drugs 35,300 43,800 97,400 176 122
Public order 93,800 110,800 178,800 91 61

Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. Percent change
calculations are based on unrounded numbers.

Figure 3: Juvenile Court Processing of Delinquency Cases, 1995

Table
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding.

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.

Table 11: Percent Change in Petitioned Delinquency Cases Waived
to Criminal Court, 1986 - 1995

Number of Cases

Percent Change

Most Serious Offense

1986

1991

1995

1986 - 95

1991 - 95

Delinquency

7,300

10,800

9,700

33%

- 10%

Person

2,300

3,600

4,600

100

27

Property

4,000

4,600

3,300

- 18

- 29

Drugs

400

1,800

1,200

180

- 32

Public order

600

800

700

8

- 13

Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding. Percent change calculations are based on unrounded numbers.

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.

Table 12: Percentage of Petitioned Delinquency Cases Waived to
Criminal Court, 1986, 1991, and 1995

Most Serious Offense

1986

1991

1995

Delinquency

1.3%

1.5%

1.0%

Person

2.2

2.4

2.1

Property

1.2

1.2

0.7

Drugs

1.2

4.1

1.3

Public order

0.7

0.7

0.4

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%).

Figure 4: Delinquency Cases Waived to Criminal Court,
1986-1995

Table

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.

Table 13: Percentage of Petitioned Delinquency Cases
Adjudicated, 1986, 1991, and 1995

Most Serious Offense

1986

1991

1995

Delinquency

64%

59%

56%

Person

58

54

53

Property

66

60

58

Drugs

68

58

57

Public order

66

60

57

Table 14: Percentage of Adjudicated Delinquency Cases
Placed Out of Home, 1986, 1991, and 1995

Most Serious Offense

1986

1991

1995

Delinquency

30%

30%

28%

Person

33

34

31

Property

28

27

26

Drugs

30

36

25

Public order

37

36

33

Table 15: Percentage of Adjudicated Delinquency Cases
Placed on Formal Probation, 1986, 1991, and 1995

Most Serious Offense

1986

1991

1995

Delinquency

55%

56%

53%

Person

55

53

53

Property

57

59

56

Drugs

58

51

53

Public order

49

52

48

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.