Juvenile Dispositions: Sentencing Process & Structures

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ken Klamar

I have been a certified police officer since 1993 and have a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration. I also have obtained my Master's degree in Criminal Behavior Analysis from the University of Cincinnati.

The juvenile court system exists to rehabilitate offenders, and the disposition of the defendant often influences the judge's discretion. Read how the sentencing process, its structure, risk, recidivism, and exclusion all need to be considered in rendering juvenile justice. Updated: 01/12/2022

Juvenile Dispositions

The goal of the juvenile court system is to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. The juvenile court system exists so that youthful offenders can have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to become productive members of society. Of course the court system is hopeful that once a juvenile is sentenced, or given a punishment, they will not be back before the judge again, but this is often not the case. A judge has discretion in sentencing, or a choice of whether or not to incarcerate a juvenile offender in a youth facility, often called a home. The judge can also release the juvenile offender to a family member, or the judge can order the transfer of the child to an adult facility.

The public often has the mindset of 'do the crime, do the time.' However, when dealing with juvenile offenders several factors must be considered. The age of the offender must first be considered. Many states do not have a set age at which a juvenile can be sentenced to a correctional facility. It is often at the sole discretion of the judge who is trying the case. Therefore, there are disparities in sentencing, which are differences that exist in similar cases that yield different punishments. The public may or may not be generally aware of these disparities.

Another factor to consider is the development of the child. A young child may not truly understand the seriousness of the crime. When this happens, sentencing the child to a correctional facility may do more harm than good. Lastly, the degree of crime committed must be considered. A child who committed a violent act, such as homicide, should be treated differently than a child who committed an act of theft. Again, the public has an expectation and the judge has a duty to protect the public.

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Sentencing Process & Structures

There are several ways that a case involving a juvenile can be completed. The first is judicial transfer. A judge looks at several factors when making a decision to try the case, or to transfer to adult court. The age of the child, the offense committed, and the criminal history of the child are all considered. The decision to transfer the child to an adult court solely rests with the judge. This can be an efficient way to move cases to criminal court, but it may not be in the best interest of the juvenile.

Prosecutorial transfer is similar but this method leaves the discretion to hear a case in juvenile court in the hands of the prosecutor. The prosecutor has the option of filing the charge in juvenile court or in the adult court. There are defined eligibility criteria that the prosecutor must follow, but this method is viewed as a way of simply clearing the docket, and it also may not have the best interests of the youth at heart.

Statutory exclusion is a method of sentencing that focuses on age, offense, and criminal history. This method removes the control of the judge and the prosecutor. The judge's role in this method is after the fact. The type of sentencing is mandated based upon the degree of offense. These mandates are set by statute and there is no discretion allowed on the part of the judge. A judge under this form of sentencing would be directed as to how to sentence.

In any of these methods, a child's case could be adjudicated, or completed, by the assessment of a fine, detention, or probation. Juvenile sentencing is similar to adult sentencing for particularity violent crimes and a child could face life in prison without the possibility of parole, or even the death penalty. Like adults, juveniles do have the right to appeal their case; that is, to ask a higher court to review the judge's decision and possibly reverse it.

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