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THE DC JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
|DC Corporation Counsel and the U.S. Attorney for the District has authority to prosecute juveniles (below 18 years old).|
In general, the DC Corporation Counsel has the sole authority in the District to prosecute juveniles, i.e., those below 18 years of age -- for DC crimes, federal crimes, as well as DC regulatory offenses. There are exceptions such as 16-18 year olds committing traffic offenses. Further the U.S. Attorney for the District has authority to charge those committing serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery, and they can be charged as an adult. In that case, the Corporation Counsel would not prosecute the same offender. Bear in mind that a single juvenile case might involve kids with widely different ages, so particular situations can vary all over the map in terms of process and those involved.
|Agencies involved in handling
juvenile offenders include:
DC Superior Court
Youth Services Administration
Office of the DC Corporation Counsel
Office of the Public Defender
DC Public Schools
Many agencies work together in handling juveniles. The agencies typically involved include: DC Police (Youth and Justice Division); DC Superior Court (which has a family division; there is no separate family court); Youth Services Administration (Human Services Department, which operates the detention service); Office of the DC Corporation Counsel (Neglect and Abuse Section as well as the Juvenile Section); Office of the Public Defender. A range of DC government as well as private agency services are available (mental health, child abuse, foster care, etc.). Further, the DC Public Schools may be involved in truancy cases. Truancy cases comprise a good example of what is referred to as "PINS" -- Persons In Need of Supervision. Often it is not best to prosecute PINS kids right off; instead an opportunity is taken to get them into programs (with the "stick" available of charging them if not cooperative).
|The Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) address special needs, such as sexual assault cases on very young children.|
The DC agencies such as the Court and police, as well as the U.S. Attorney, have established a Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) at 1 Judiciary Square to address special needs, such as sexual assault cases on very young children. The CAC facilities are physically scaled down for children and special expertise is available.
|DC requires a speedy trial. The Corporation Counsel generally has 30 days after the initial hearing to prosecute, 45 days for serious cases. (In contrast the U.S. Attorney has 125 days for adults.)|
There is a formal terminology employed to remind all persons in the system that they are not dealing with adults and there is special interest in rehabilitation. Thus juveniles are referred to as "defendants," charges become "petition," and sentencing is referred to as "disposition." The basic process within the juvenile system is as follows: The arresting officer brings the juvenile to the DC Police central processing station (New York and 6th Streets, NW) and from there to the DC Court for an initial Court hearing. (The DC Court is open from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., six days per week; it does not close in snow emergencies. When the Court is not open, a juvenile can be held over at the Oak Hill facility near Laurel, Maryland.) At the initial hearing the judge decides if the juvenile may go home, perhaps with conditions, go to a shelter before trial, or go to Oak Hill (if the offense is serious). DC requires a speedy trial. The Corporation Counsel generally has 30 days after the initial hearing to prosecute, 45 days for serious cases. (In contrast the U.S. Attorney has 125 days for adults.) The DC Corporation Counsel must meet the standard of "probable cause." It could decide not to prosecute and instead release the juvenile, perhaps under certain conditions or with referral for services. If it prosecutes, there will be a status hearing, in which discovery is completed, problems are ironed out, motions and responses filed, etc., and the trial date is set. If the juvenile is not detained in the meantime, the Corporation has 45 days to bring a case to trial; if the offender is detained the limit is 15 days. At a "disposition" (sentencing) hearing the range of choices for the judge are: probation, detention at a group home (like half-way house), detention at Oak Hill, or detention at a special residential facility where overlapping special services are focused, such as a hospital. [Note: If an offender is prosecuted, he/she remains under the Court's jurisdiction until age 21; after that all services arranged by the Court cease, which can cut both ways in terms of juveniles' interests given the services available to juveniles.]
|For non-violent first offenders, the District has three options: Diversion Program, Petition, or Juvenile Drug Court.|
For non-violent first offenders, the District has three options, depending upon the circumstances: Diversion Program: Where the home is stable the juvenile might be sent there if charges have not yet been brought; the child is under parents' protection for 6 months, which period could be extended. If all goes well charges may not be brought. Petition: Like a consent decree, wherein sentencing is held off for six months while Court can look into matters further. Juvenile Drug Court: DC has a cutting-edge program with rewards (e.g., allowed to go to a ball game) and sanctions (conditions imposed). If an offender has a drug habit (and not necessarily committed a drug offense), then a petition can be filed to delay sentencing for up to one year.
|The most common juvenile offenses in DC are auto theft and drug-related.|
The DC trends in juvenile justice indicate that the number of arrests is declining (from 5,000 in 1994 to 3,000 in 1997). Note: one person may be arrested more than once, so "arrests" does not represent a total number of people. Of the approximate 100,000 children in DC, about 50% live in poverty. The most common juvenile offenses in DC are auto theft and drug-related. Every child arrested that goes before the Court is tested for drugs by Pretrial Services. In over 13,000 arrests over a four-year period, over 60% tested positive for drugs. The number of female juvenile arrests has decreased but the charges are more serious.
Prepared by Barbara Yeomans
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