Juvenile Law FAQ
Q. Who does the Massachusetts Juvenile Court have jurisdiction over in criminal proceedings?
A. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119, §52 confers delinquency jurisdiction on the Division of Juvenile Court Department for children between the ages of 7 and 17 who are accused of violations of a city ordinance or municipal or state law. Therefore, complaints for crimes committed by youths under the age of seventeen are typically prosecuted in the juvenile court system and juvenile sentencing will apply. Complaints for crimes committed by those aged 17 and over are prosecuted in the adult session.
The juvenile court additionally has jurisdiction of children who attain their 17th or 18th birthdays and (a) have their cases pending adjudication, (b) have their appeals pending hearing and determination, (c) during continuances, (d) during probation and (e) after a case is placed on file. Juvenile court jurisdiction is also conferred on children who are accused of committing an offense prior to their 17th birthday and are not apprehended until between their 17th and 18th birthday; children who are accused of committing an offense prior to their 17th birthday and are not apprehended until after their 18th birthday; and, juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17 who are indicted as youthful offenders. The juvenile court jurisdiction in youthful offender cases extends to age 21 for sentencing purposes; for example, a juvenile can be committed to the Department of Youth Services (F”DYS”) up to age 21.
There are also certain limited situations in which an adult may be prosecuted in the juvenile court system. These include adults charged with (a) failure to cause school attendance, (b) contributing to the delinquency of a minor and (c) willful neglect or abandonment of a child.
Q. What is DYS?
A. The Department of Youth Services is the juvenile justice agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the nation’s first juvenile correctional system. DYS operates numerous programs and provides many services, including but not limited to, clinical and support services, health services, victim services, community services, delinquency prevention, substance abuse, legal issues education, job training and employment services. DYS also operates numerous facilities ranging from staff secure group homes to highly secure locked units. The stated goal of DYS is to protect the public and prevent crime by promoting positive change in the youth committed to its care and custody. DYS works with various entities, including but not limited to, provider agencies, police, schools, families and communities. For further information, please visit the DYS website at http://www.mass.gov/dys/.
Q. What is DCF?
A. The Department of Children and Families (formerly known as the Department of Social Services, or DSS) is a 24-hour-a-day agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that protects children from child abuse and neglect. The DCF reviews and investigates reports and will intervene when children are allegedly abused or neglected to provide for their safety, permanency and well-being. The DCF mission is dedicated to acting in the children’s best interest. The DCF provides substitute care and purports to keep families intact whereas it typically first looks to reunify children and parents whenever possible and appropriate. The DCF will seek to implement another permanent plan, such as adoption, guardianship or independent living, in situations where reunification is not feasible.
There are oftentimes societal factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health conditions that may contribute to the inability of some parents or caretakers to care for children. The DCF is required to seek legal custody in instances when it must remove children from their home and must then file a Care and Protection petition with the Juvenile Court on the next business day. The court may place the children back in the parental home or in foster care and the DCF usually attempts to place siblings together. Both the DCF and the court will review all cases and monitor parental efforts toward reunification as the case progresses in due course. In considerably egregious cases, the DCF might petition the court to terminate parental rights.
DCF has six regional offices and 26 area offices across Massachusetts. For further information, please visit the DCF website at http://www.mass.gov/dss/.
Q. What is the difference between a juvenile delinquent and a youthful offender?
A. Youthful offender crimes are, generally speaking, more serious in nature than delinquent crimes. A juvenile must be indicted by a Grand Jury to be prosecuted as a youthful offender. Youthful offender crimes are typically those that carry the potential of serious bodily injury or those which have resulted in actual serious bodily injury. Certain enumerated gun charges may result in a juvenile being indicted as a youthful offender. In cases where a juvenile has been previously convicted and committed to DYS, a juvenile may be charged as a youthful offender for a subsequent and serious crime.
There can also be differences in the manner of sentencing. A court can impose either a juvenile or adult sentence on a youthful offender, or it can impose a combination of the two. Whereas the juvenile court has no jurisdiction of a juvenile delinquent beyond the age of 18, it retains jurisdiction over youthful offenders up to age 21 for sentencing purposes.
Q. Does a juvenile have a right to a jury trial?
A. Yes. Juveniles who exercise their right to a jury trial pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119, §§55A, 56 are entitled to six-person jury trials, with a right to a 12-person jury trial if the case results in a youthful offender indictment.
Q. Do the police need to give juveniles Miranda warnings for their statements to be admissible at trial in Massachusetts?
A. Yes. The scope of Miranda is even broader when it applies to juveniles than as to adults. In Commonwealth v. Juvenile, 389 Mass. 128 (1983), the court held that the Commonwealth has a heavy burden of demonstrating that a statement made by a juvenile was a knowing and intelligent waiver of Miranda. The court recognized that there are special problems when dealing with children and waiver and cited the research in the area of children and their understanding of Miranda. Juveniles cannot be compared to adults who are presumably in full possession of their senses and knowledgeable of the consequences of their admissions. Therefore, children should have additional protections to ensure they understand the ramifications of waiving Miranda.
Special considerations must be afforded to juveniles when waiving Miranda. One such consideration is the Interested Adult Rule. An interested adult is someone with a relationship with the juvenile who is sufficiently interested in the juvenile’s welfare to afford the juvenile appropriate protection. The adult must be informed of the rights and understand them. An interested adult does not have to act as a defense attorney but rather must have the capacity to appreciate the juvenile’s situation and to give advice. An interested adult can be, amongst others, a parent, sibling, relative or neighbor. On the other hand, a sibling who is a minor, a DYS worker, or a co-defendant’s relative who was at the alleged crime scene would not be an interested adult. The purpose of the rule is that most children do not understand the significance and protective function of Miranda and frequently lack the capacity to appreciate the consequences of their actions.
The distinction between juveniles under the age of 14 versus those over 14 is critical. Added protection is provided to juveniles under the age of 14 in that a knowing and intelligent waiver can only be effective if a parent or interested adult was present and had the opportunity to explain the rights to the juvenile so that the juvenile understands the significance of waiving these rights. In cases of children who have reached the age of 14, there should ordinarily be a “meaningful consultation” with a parent, interested adult or attorney. However, the waiver may be valid without such consultation if the circumstances demonstrate that the juvenile possessed a high degree of intelligence, experience, knowledge or sophistication.
Q. Are school officials permitted to search students?
A. Yes, with a caveat. Schools are increasingly taking a punitive approach toward students that infringes upon their constitutional rights. School searches can be embarrassing to students and may significantly invade their privacy. In this post-Columbine era, it has been arguably difficult for school administrators to balance school safety with a student’s right to privacy, that is, to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures also applies to searches conducted by school officials, though the strict probable cause standard does not apply to school settings and the legality of a search of a student may depend on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Additionally, teachers and school administrators are not required to obtain a warrant before a search is conducted, so as not to interfere with the swift and informal discipline so often needed in the school setting. School searches are generally valid only when the facts known to the administrators demonstrate the need to search and then must be limited to areas where the facts suggest the object of the search may be found.
Q. Is a school or agency prohibited from reporting a crime committed by a child with a disability? Are police or judicial authorities prohibited from prosecuting these crimes?
A. No. Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”) is a federal grant program intended to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs.” As a condition of funding, the state agrees to comply with the substantive and procedural provisions of IDEA. The analogous Massachusetts statute is General Laws Chapter 71B.
Behavioral problems may constitute a disability under IDEA but they are not a ground for a motion to dismiss. IDEA does not prohibit a school from reporting a crime committed by a child with a disability to appropriate authorities or to prevent law enforcement or judicial authorities from exercising their responsibilities with regard to crimes committed by a child with a disability. A court may properly deny a juvenile defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the school’s alleged lack of compliance with IDEA. It is noted that school records are subject to privacy rights and an agency reporting a crime under IDEA §1417 may transmit copies of the child’s special education and disciplinary records only to the extent that the transmission is permitted by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. That statute and its regulations, in turn, set out detailed controls on third party access to educational records.
Q. Are juvenile proceedings and juvenile records accessible to the public?
A. No. Massachusetts has enacted laws designed to protect the confidentiality of juvenile court proceedings and explicitly protect juvenile probation records that are maintained by both the court and probation department. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119, §65 provides that juvenile proceedings are not accessible to the public, except for certain youthful offender proceedings. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100 provides that probation department records are not accessible to the public. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100A more so speaks as to juvenile records and provides that the general public must be told that “no record exists.” Therefore, any employment applicant may answer “no record” with respect to inquiries relative to prior juvenile arrests, juvenile court appearances and delinquency adjudications, or as a child in need of services (“CHINS”).
Q. Can a juvenile record be sealed or expunged?
A. Yes and no. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100B provides that the probation commissioner may seal the record of a juvenile court appearance provided that three years have elapsed and the person has not been adjudicated or convicted of a criminal offense during the preceding three years. A person cannot be disqualified for public service for a sealed record and the sealed record is not admissible in any court proceedings or hearings before any boards of commissioners, except in imposing sentences for subsequent delinquency offenses or criminal proceedings. Courts and police inquiring about such records may only be told that there is a sealed delinquency record that is over three years old. Further information regarding the record may be made available to a judge or probation officer only if the person has been adjudicated of a subsequent offense and is awaiting sentencing. Other persons or entities who would normally have access to an adult record must be told, pursuant to §100A, that there is no record. While juvenile records may be sealed, a juvenile court judge does not, however, have the inherent authority to order that juvenile records be expunged due to the statutory and regulatory protection of juvenile probation records that has been enacted.