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Juveniles in Court
Delinquency Cases
Q: Have there been increases in the number of cases judicially waived to criminal court?
A: The number of delinquency cases judicially waived to criminal court more than doubled between 1985 and 1994 and then declined 77% through 2020. However, trends varied across offense categories.
It is important to note that 2020 was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have impacted policies, procedures, and data collection activities regarding referrals to and processing of youth by juvenile courts. Additionally, stay-at-home orders and school closures likely impacted the volume and type of law-violating behavior by youth referred to juvenile court in 2020.

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  • One of the first actions taken during the juvenile court process is determining whether a case should be processed in the criminal justice system rather than in juvenile 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 mechanism is known as judicial waiver.
  • 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 under concurrent jurisdiction provisions.
  • The number of delinquency cases judicially waived to criminal court in 2020 was 77% less than the number waived in 1994, the peak year.
  • The number of person offense cases judicially waived to criminal court nearly tripled between 1985 and 1994, then declined 70% through 2015 to reach its lowest level since 1985. After reaching the historic low, the number of person offense cases judicially waived to criminal court increased 15% through 2020.
  • The number of property and public order offense cases waived to criminal court also peaked in 1994, and have since declined through 2020 (86% and 80%, respectively). The number of drug offense cases waived to criminal court peaked in 1995, then declined 86% through 2020.
  • Person offense cases represented the largest share (62%) of waived cases in 2020 and property offense cases accounted for 23%.

Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/court/qa06502.asp?qaDate=2020. Released on January 10, 2023.

Adapted from Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics. Available on-line at: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezajcs/.

Data Source: National Juvenile Court Data Archive. National Center for Juvenile Justice. Pittsburgh, PA.


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