Profile No. 42

Juvenile Firearms Prosecution -- Seattle, WA

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Court-related programs; the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Program Goal:
To prosecute juvenile firearm cases and coordinate efforts between the prosecutor's office and the Seattle Police Department.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Juvenile weapons offenders.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Seattle, WA.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Julie Baker
Grant Coordinator
Seattle Police Department
610 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206­233­5133

Years of Operation:
1996 and 1997.

Between January 1994 and May 1997, the King County prosecutor's office received 820 cases involving a juvenile charged with a firearm-related crime. The number of firearm cases filed in juvenile court increased by 27 percent between 1995 and 1996. This increase was primarily made up of felony gun possession cases. Filings were expected to increase by 24 percent in 1997, because of more aggressive enforcement efforts.

The prosecutor's response to each case is dictated by whether it is an "in-custody" case (i.e., the juvenile is in detention) or an "out-of-custody" case. In-custody cases require a 48-hour probable cause hearing, a detention review, and a case review. Each in-custody case must be filed within 72 hours of arrest to detain the juvenile. Once a case is filed, there are a number of further actions, including the arraignment, case-setting hearing, trial, disposition, and modification hearing.

Filings and actions taken on out-of-custody cases are not prescribed, and thus normally take much longer. In the 3 years preceding the Juvenile Firearms Prosecution project, it took an average of 50 days to file an out-of-custody firearm case. Long delays in filing a case often would occur when cases needed to be returned to police for more information. Up to three Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys (DPA's) normally handled a juvenile case from filing to trial because they did not specialize in any one type of crime. Thus, juvenile firearm cases were handled by a number of different DPA's, which hampered communication with police and other departments, contributing to the slowness of the filing and court processes.

The Juvenile Firearms Prosecution project was initiated in September 1996, under a grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to the Seattle Police Department, to facilitate the processing of juvenile firearm offenses as part of an overall law enforcement strategy to crack down on firearm offenders. A new full-time DPA position was created (for 1 year) to coordinate enforcement and prosecution efforts in juvenile firearm offenses between the prosecutor's office and the Seattle Police Department's Gang Unit. The duties of the juvenile firearm DPA were to: (1) develop a computerized tracking system for pending juvenile firearm cases; (2) review and file out-of-custody juvenile firearm cases and in-custody cases and assist and advise other DPA's in filing these cases; (3) handle hearings on the most serious firearm offenders; (4) manage case-setting negotiations and advise other DPA's on pretrial hearings; (5) handle trials involving firearm offenses; (6) handle the disposition hearings on chronic or serious offenders; (7) become knowledgeable about legal issues arising in juvenile firearm cases and analyze the effects of new legislation; (8) conduct periodic training with other DPA's and provide updates on new laws and legal briefs; and (9) coordinate efforts with the Seattle Police Department and other police agencies by conducting training sessions for detectives and patrol officers, assisting in initial police investigations, and ensuring that cases are filed in a timely manner.

The Juvenile Firearms Prosecution project thus provided for a number of changes in the handling of juvenile firearm cases. A vertical prosecution process also was adopted in which one DPA became a specialist in firearm prosecution, handling all juvenile firearm offenses from the time the case was received by the prosecutor's office until juvenile sentencing.

As a result of these efforts, juvenile firearm cases were filed faster (in 17 days rather than 53) and filing backlogs were eliminated; conviction rates increased (from 65.4 percent to 78.4 percent); the number of cases going to trial increased (monthly trials doubled to 5 on average); the adjudications rate (i.e., pleaded guilty or found guilty) increased (from 83.1 percent to 85.5 percent); the pretrial dismissal rate was reduced (from 9.6 percent to 5.5 percent); more cases were successfully rushed to trial (from 86 percent to 91.4 percent); more juveniles were detained at first appearance (from 82.7 percent to 93.8 percent); more exceptional sentences were imposed (from 10 percent to 18 percent); more juveniles were declined for adult prosecution (from 1 to 5); and police investigation and incident reports were improved. Information provided in this profile was obtained from an upcoming Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Bulletin. The juvenile firearm DPA position ended in September 1997 when the grant ended.

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