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Ramifications of a Juvenile Adjudication in D.C.

Jamison KoehlerJuveniles

One of the questions parents of a juvenile client often ask me is the effect of a juvenile adjudication on their child’s future. The question often comes up in the context of plea negotiations. If, for example, the government has offered to reduce the charge from robbery to simple assault or theft, the parents want to know if and how the reduced charge will benefit their child.

Although juvenile records are generally confidential, and can be sealed from public view under certain conditions, a juvenile adjudication can affect the client in three major ways. First, because a new D.C. law has made many adjudications “reportable,” selected records for juveniles charged with certain more serious offenses can be released to the public. Second, should the child later be found guilty of a criminal offense as an adult, adjudications for many felony offenses can be factored into the court’s calculations in determining an appropriate sentence. Finally, all juvenile records – even minor contacts with the system — can be reported to school and mental health officials.

1.  Information on more serious juvenile adjudications can now be released to the public.

According to a new D.C. law that took effect last year, certain law enforcement records can now be publicly released.  The information that can be released includes the child’s name; the fact that the child was arrested; the charges at arrest; the charges that have been petitioned; whether the petition resulted in an adjudication and the charges for which the child was found involved; and, if the child was found involved, whether at initial disposition the child was placed on probation or committed to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS).

In order to have his or her records subject to public disclosure, the juvenile must have been adjudicated a single time of a crime of violence, a felony weapons charge or a felony firearms charge.  Also subject to public release of records would be juveniles with two or more adjudications for a dangerous crime not included in the one of the categories above, unlawful use of a vehicle, 1st degree theft where the property obtained or used is a motor vehicle, or assault with significant bodily injury.  Once a child’s adjudication subjects the child’s records to public disclosure, the disclosure triggers release of information on all the child’s adjudications, not just information on the adjudication that met the criteria for disclosure.

2.  Some juvenile adjudications will be factored into adult sentencing guidelines if the client is later convicted of a criminal offense.

D.C.’s Sentencing Guidelines, which are voluntary, take a number of factors into consideration in calculating an appropriate penalty for a defendant who has been convicted of a criminal offense. Juvenile adjudications for certain felony offenses are factored into this calculation, with the juvenile adjudication being given one-half the weight of an adult conviction for the same offense. For example, if an adult conviction for robbery would contribute two points toward the defendant’s “criminal history score,” with a more severe penalty recommended for a higher overall score, a juvenile adjudication for robbery would contribute just one point.

Juvenile adjudications “lapse” (that is, they are no longer counted toward the individual’s criminal history score) five years after the case is closed.  In the case of placement into a locked residential facility, for example, the timeframe would begin to run five years after the juvenile was released from the facility.  As a practical matter, this means that all adjudications will have lapsed by the time the client reaches the age of 26.

In addition, unlike criminal convictions, juvenile adjudications cannot be “revived” during the five-year window through, for example, new convictions/adjudications or revocations of probation. At the same time, while a lapsed adjudication cannot be considered by the court in deciding which block of the “Master Grid” the individual’s criminal history score falls into, the court can consider it in deciding where within the recommended guideline it will impose sentence.

3.  All juvenile information can be shared with schools and mental health professionals. 

The new law also allows Family Court, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and Metropolitan Police Department officials to share otherwise confidential information about a juvenile with a school or mental health professional. Unlike the public-sharing provision that can only be triggered by specific adjudications, this provision applies to any juvenile who has information covered by the confidentiality statutes.  It applies, for example, to any juvenile who has had contact with the system, even if that contact was just an arrest.

So what does all of this mean for a client who is considering whether or not to accept a guilty plea that would drop the charge from robbery to simple assault or theft?  Robbery is a reportable offense. It would also contribute two points to the client’s criminal history score if the client were later convicted of another offense and sentenced. By contrast, neither simple assault or a theft is a reportable offense. Nor would either offense be counted in a criminal history score.  But information on all three offenses – robbery, simple assault and theft — would be reportable to school and mental health professionals.