Case Flow Diagram
(click on image to viewer larger flow chart)
The case flow diagram describes
the stages of delinquency case processing in the juvenile
The following is an excerpt from the Juvenile Offenders
and Victims: A National Report publication, NCJ 153569,
pages 7679. The statistics have been updated to reflect the
latest available data.
Young law violators generally enter the juvenile justice
system through law enforcement...
Each State's processing of law violators is unique:
Even within States, case processing often varies from
community to community depending on local practice and tradition.
Consequently, any description of juvenile justice processing
must be general,
outlining a common series of decision points.
Law enforcement diverts many juvenile offenders out of the
At arrest, a decision is made either to send the matter further
into the justice system or to divert the case out of the
system, often into alternative programs. Usually, law enforcement
makes this decision, after talking to the victim, the juvenile,
and the parents, and after reviewing the juvenile's prior
contacts with the juvenile justice system. Twenty-two percent
of all juveniles arrested in 2009 were handled within the
police department and then released. Seventy percent of arrested
juveniles were referred to juvenile court.
Federal regulations discourage holding juveniles in adult
jails and lockups. If law enforcement must detain a juvenile
in secure custody for a brief period in order to contact
a parent or guardian or to arrange transportation to a juvenile
detention facility, Federal regulations require that the
juvenile be securely detained for no longer than 6 hours
and in an area that is not within sight or sound of adult
Most juvenile court cases are referred by law enforcement:
Law enforcement referrals accounted for 83% of all delinquency
cases referred to juvenile court in 2009. The remaining
referrals were made by others such as parents, victims,
schools, and probation officers.
The court intake function is generally the responsibility
of the juvenile probation department and/or the prosecutor's
office. At this point intake must decide either to dismiss
the case, handle the matter informally, or request formal
intervention by the juvenile court.
To make this decision, an intake officer first reviews the
facts of the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence
to prove the allegation. If there is not, the case is dismissed.
If there is sufficient evidence, intake will then determine
if formal intervention is necessary.
About half of all cases referred to juvenile court intake
are handled informally. Most informally processed cases are
dismissed. In the other informally processed cases, the juvenile
voluntarily agrees to specific conditions for a specific
time period. These conditions are often outlined in a written
agreement, generally called a "consent decree." Conditions
may include such items as victim restitution, school attendance,
drug counseling, or a curfew. In most jurisdictions, a juvenile
may be offered an informal disposition only if he or she
admits to committing the act. The juvenile's compliance with
the informal agreement is often monitored by a probation
officer. Consequently, this process is sometimes labeled "informal
If the juvenile successfully complies with the informal
disposition, the case is dismissed. If, however, the juvenile
fails to meet the conditions, the intake decision may be
to formally prosecute the case, and the case will proceed
just as it would have if the initial decision had been to
refer the case for an adjudicatory hearing.
During the processing of a case, a juvenile may be held
in a secure detention facility:
Juvenile courts may hold delinquents in a secure detention
facility if the court believes it is in the best interest
of the community or the child. After arrest a youth is often
brought to the local juvenile detention facility by law enforcement.
Juvenile probation officers or detention workers review the
case and decide if the juvenile should be held pending a
hearing by a judge.
In all States, a detention hearing must be held within a
time period defined by statute, generally within 24 hours.
At the detention hearing a judge reviews the case and determines
if continued detention is warranted. As a result of the detention
hearing the youth may be released or detention continued.
In 2009 juveniles were detained in 1 in 5 (21%) delinquency cases
processed by the juvenile courts. Detention may extend beyond
the adjudicatory and dispositional hearings. In some cases
crowded juvenile facilities require that detention continue
beyond adjudication until a bed becomes available in a juvenile
correctional institution or treatment facility.
Prosecutors may file a case in either juvenile or criminal
In many States prosecutors are required to file certain (generally
serious) cases involving juveniles in the criminal court.
These are cases in which the legislature has decided the
juvenile should be handled as a criminal offender. In a growing
number of States the legislature has given the prosecutor
the discretion of filing a defined list of cases in
either juvenile or adult court. In these States both the
juvenile and adult courts have original jurisdiction over
these cases, and the prosecutor selects the court that will
handle the matter.
If the case is handled in juvenile court, two types of petitions
may be filed: delinquency or waiver. A delinquency petition
states the allegations and requests the juvenile court to
adjudicate (or judge) the youth a delinquent, making
the juvenile a ward of the court. This language differs from
that used in the criminal court system (where an offender
is convicted and sentenced).
In response to the delinquency petition, an adjudicatory
hearing is scheduled. At the adjudicatory hearing (trial),
witnesses are called and the facts of the case are presented.
In nearly all adjudicatory hearings the determination that
the juvenile was responsible for the offense(s) is made
by a judge; although, in some States the juvenile is given
the right to a jury trial. In 2009, juveniles were adjudicated
delinquent in 59% of cases petitioned to juvenile court
for criminal law violations.
Intake may ask the juvenile court to transfer the case to
A waiver petition is filed when the prosecutor or intake
officer believes that a case under jurisdiction of the juvenile
court would be more appropriately handled in criminal court.
The court decision in these matters follows a review of the
facts of the case and a determination that there is probable
cause to believe that the juvenile committed the act. With
this established, the court then considers whether jurisdiction
over the matter should be waived and the case is transferred
to criminal court.
This decision generally centers around the issue of whether
the juvenile is amenable to treatment in the juvenile justice
system. The prosecution may argue that the juvenile has been
adjudicated several times previously and that interventions
ordered by the juvenile court have not kept the juvenile
from committing subsequent criminal acts. The prosecutor
may argue that the crime is so serious that the juvenile
court is unlikely to be able to intervene for the time period
necessary to rehabilitate the youth.
If the judge agrees that the case should be transferred
to criminal court, juvenile court jurisdiction over the matter
is waived and the case is filed in criminal court. If the
judge does not approve the waiver request, an adjudicatory
hearing is scheduled in juvenile court.
Between the adjudication decision and the disposition hearing,
an investigation report is prepared by probation staff:
Once the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, a disposition
plan is developed. To prepare this plan, probation staff
develop a detailed understanding of the youth and assess
available support systems and programs. To assist in preparation
of disposition recommendations, the court may order psychological
evaluations, diagnostic tests, or a period of confinement
in a diagnostic facility.
At the disposition hearing, dispositional recommendations
are presented to the judge. The prosecutor and the youth
may also present dispositional recommendations. After considering
options presented, the judge orders a disposition in the
Most cases placed on probation also receive other dispositions:
Most juvenile dispositions are multi-faceted. A probation
order may include additional requirements such as drug
counseling, weekend confinement in the local detention
center, and community or victim restitution. The term of
probation may be for a specified period of time or open
ended. Review hearings are held to monitor the juvenile's
progress and to hear reports from probation staff. After
conditions of the probation have been successfully met,
the judge terminates the case. In 2009, 60% of adjudicated
delinquents were placed on formal probation.
The judge may order the juvenile committed to a residential
Residential commitment may be for a specific or indeterminate
ordered time period. In 2009, 27% of adjudicated delinquents
were placed in a residential facility. The facility may be
publicly or privately operated and may have a secure prison-like
environment or a more open, even home-like setting. In many
States, when the judge commits a juvenile to the State department
of juvenile corrections, the department determines where
the juvenile will be placed and when the juvenile will be
released. In other instances the judge controls the type
and length of stay. In these situations review hearings are
held to assess the progress of the juvenile.
Juvenile aftercare is similar to adult parole:
Following release from an institution, the juvenile is often
ordered to a period of aftercare or parole. During this
period the juvenile is under supervision of the court or
the juvenile corrections department. If the juvenile does
not follow the conditions of aftercare, he or she may be
recommitted to the same facility or to another facility.
The processing of status offense cases differs from that
of delinquency cases:
A delinquent offense is an act committed by a juvenile for
which an adult could be prosecuted in criminal court. There
are, however, behaviors that are law violations only for
youth of juvenile status. These "status offenses" may
include such behaviors as running away from home, truancy,
ungovernability, curfew violations, and underage drinking.
In many ways the processing of status offense cases parallels
that of delinquency cases.
Not all cases, however, consider all of these behaviors
to be law violations.
Many States view these behaviors as
indicators that the child is in need of supervision and respond
to the behavior through the provision of social services.
This different characterization of status offenses causes
them to be handled more like dependency than delinquency
While many status offenders enter the juvenile justice system
through law enforcement, in many States the initial, official
contact is a child welfare agency. Nearly half (59%)
of all petitioned status offense cases referred to juvenile court in 2009 were
from law enforcement.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act discourages
the holding of status offenders in secure juvenile facilities,
either for detention or placement. This policy has been labeled
deinstitutionalization of status offenders. An exception
to this policy occurs when the status offender violates a
valid court order such as a probation order that requires
the adjudicated status offender to attend school and observe
a court-ordered curfew. In such situations, the status offender
may be confined in a secure detention facility.
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