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National Assessment of Criminal Court Use of Defendants' Juvenile Adjudication Records

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages
Under a National Institute of Justice grant, the Institute for Law and Justice conducted a national review and assessment of laws and practices related to the use of juvenile adjudication records in criminal courts.
The study included surveys of prosecutors, criminal justice record centers, and State sentencing guideline commissions; a review of State laws; and field work in Wichita, Kansas, and Montgomery County, Maryland. Findings revealed 40 States explicitly authorized the fingerprinting of arrested juveniles, 27 States authorized central holding and dissemination of juvenile records, 50 States authorized judge access to juvenile records, and 24 States authorized prosecutor access to juvenile records. Sentencing laws dictated adjudication record use in 24 States, including 14 States with sentencing guidelines. The most glaring discrepancy between State laws and law implementation concerned prosecutor access to and use of juvenile records. A survey of nearly 100 prosecutors in large jurisdictions indicated prosecutors in 22 States never, rarely, or only occasionally saw juvenile record information. Where juvenile record information was available, it typically came from the prosecutor's own files. Prosecutors did not report use of juvenile record information available to them from the State central record repository. A review of State sentencing commission data in five States found the incidence of juvenile records among offenders ranged from less than 6 percent to only 16 percent. This was attributed to poor recordkeeping in Wichita and to the purging of juvenile records when youth reached 21 years of age in Montgomery County. A change in sentencing guidelines increased the sentence imposed in 59 percent of cases in Wichita where the defendant had a juvenile record. The author concludes that a significant proportion (at least 33 percent) of all convicted persons have juvenile adjudication records and that consideration of juvenile records at sentencing can have a strong impact on the incapacitation of offenders under a presumptive sentence system. Additional information on State access to juvenile records is appended. 6 exhibits

Date Published: January 1, 1996