Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do what, now?

It occurs to me that since I've moved to juvenile I haven't given any kind of accounting of what I do here.

Here's the lowdown. Down low. Upshot. Whatever.

All kids in the juvenile (and that means youths aged 10-17) are assigned a personal identification number (PID. Wait, that should be PIN, no? Huh, never thought about it before, but it's definitely PID). And as you'd expect they already have a last name. So I handle those kids in the alphabet between A and L, whose PID ends in an odd number.

Quick math test: how many prosecutors do we have handling juvenile cases?

Trick question, because it's five, not four, as we have a special ADA just for sexual offenses. Which is kind of disturbing, if you think about it.

Anyway, I have court two days a week, Wednesday and Thursday. The rest of the week I sit beside the juvenile division's swimming pool and am fed bon-bons by the division's pet monkey. It's a good gig, actually. Occasionally, though, I will wander to my office to prepare for the upcoming cases.

As a matter of fact, the pace here is lickity-split. Where in adult court cases last a year or more, the turnaround time here is a matter of months, sometimes weeks.

Subject matter? Mostly misdemeanors. Assaults, thefts, criminal mischief. The felonies tend to be burglaries, or unlawful use of motor vehicles. Again, this being juvenile you'd think the latter would be few and far between. Another good reason to wear a seat-belt, eh?

The focus down here is very different from adult court - a very strong emphasis on rehabilitation here, on providing services to ensure the kid gets back on the straight and narrow. Here are the main resolutions:

Deferred prosecution - this is what it sounds like. If a kid commits a crime his lawyer can file a motion for deferred prosecution (aka DPU). This means that he gets services from the probation office (drug counseling etc) and if he does as he's told for six months all charges are dismissed.

Probation - much like in adult court, but again the emphasis is on providing services for the kid's needs. But they do have a record now, though there are some rules about having it sealed at a later date. Unlike in adult court, where if you screw up you go to prison, if a kids messes up while on probation he gets more intensive services, sometimes to the point where he/she gets locked up while they are administered.

That's pretty much the deal. It definitely suits my own philosophy of mercy and redemption, so in that sense it's a good fit. The downside for me, personally, is that there are never any jury trials. Never. Ever. We, the State, don't have a right to them like we do in adult court and the kids' lawyers always opt for a bench trial because the judges, who deal with these kids every day, are more forgiving than a group of strangers who might be shocked what some kids get up to.

And I like jury trials, you know that.


  1. Interesting stuff! Hope you are doing well. Do you ever get anything more serious like murders?

  2. Hi Lisa. :) Fortunately (for them and us) juveniles commit more minor crimes on the whole. That said, I do have one murder case where the accused is a juvenile. That's a pretty new one, too. But not much that one would consider high-level crime. I suppose one should be grateful for that!

  3. After spending 2.5 years prosecuting juvies when I started, I took to calling juvie court a prep course for adult court. We teach them where to stand, how to address the judge, what a plea agreement is, etc. That way, when they get to be 18 and start committing adult felonies, they already know the basic stuff.

  4. @ 1:34: If the people within the juvenile system take such a fatalistic view of the youths they should be trying to help to rehabilitate, it is no wonder that their fatalism turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I represent adult felons most of whom do have juvenile records, so I know full well to what you are referring -- but the thought of viewing minors as such a lost cause is very troubling to me.)

    DAC: could you comment on rehabilitation and recidivism within the juvenile justice system and what, in your experience, works or doesn't work in getting offending youth back on the straight and narrow?

  5. i'm curious about the ratio of males to females in the juvenile system. is it mostly males? are there more females now than before? is there a difference in the type of crime one is more likely to commit than the other? are they treated any differently?

  6. Anon: what works? The one conference I went to strongly suggests that punishment/deterrence does not work. Incentives, rewards etc. It's hard for prosecutors like me to turn away from the "give him a clip around the ear" philosophy when they keep messing up but I'm told by the experts that's not the way to go.

    alex: mostly males, yes, but not exclusively. Maybe 70 percent? I would guess that for the females there is more shoplifting/theft, but also a surprisingly high number of assault charges. For the boys, a little of everything. Assault is high on everyone's list. Other common crimes seem to be burglary, house and cars, and drugs. I wouldn't say that are treated differently because of gender, rather there are so many services available that every kid is treated as an individual. Sounds cheesy, I know, but that's the goal.

  7. The problem with the rehab v. punnish argument is that so often it doesn't take into account where the juvie is coming from. Where I work, the juvie court & probation office both work tirelessly to offer programs to help keep juvies from coming back. And (I would estimate) up to 60 to 70% do. Why? It's because of their enviroment. When being a teenage parent is a part of growing up, having a prison/felony record is no big deal, education is not a priority, etc., rehab is an uphill battle.

    And I want to be very clear here, I'm not pointing my finger at any one race or ethnicity. In its own unique form, you see this in every ethnicity. And until that culture is changed, the majority of these juvies will be back. Both as juvenile offenders and as adults.

  8. Anon@7:56 - I agree with everything you say here. My own kids go to a school where many of their friends have such a background, so I sort of see it from a non-ADA position too. I feel like a lot of them will have an uphill battle, solely because of their upbringing. Very sad.


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