Supreme Judicial Court, February 6, 2012

Even after a jury renders a verdict of delinquent, a judge has the authority under G.L. c. 119, § 58 to continue the juvenile’s case without a finding.

On September 29, 2010, a jury found the juvenile-defendant delinquent of breaking and entering a motor vehicle in the nighttime, with the intent to commit a felony pursuant to G.L. c. 266, § 16.  On that same day, the judge issued an order, over the Commonwealth’s objection, that the defendant’s case be continued without a finding for approximately seven months with supervised probation.

The first paragraph of G.L. c. 119, § 58 states:  
At the hearing of a complaint against a child the court shall hear the testimony of any witnesses who appear and take such evidence relative to the case as shall be produced. If the allegations against a child are proved beyond a reasonable doubt, he may be adjudged a delinquent child, or in lieu thereof, the court may continue the case without a finding… .

The Commonwealth asked the Court to interpret § 58 as allowing a continuation without a finding only when the juvenile tenders a pretrial plea or submission.  

The Court considered the underlying philosophy of the juvenile justice system, which is “primarily rehabilitative, cognizant of the inherent differences between juvenile and adult offenders and geared toward the ‘correction and redemption of society of delinquent children.’” It next considered the legislative language and the structure of § 58.  The Court held that § 58 authorizes a judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding after concluding a trial.  Further, even after a jury renders a verdict of delinquent, a judge may continue the case without a finding.  

*This decision does not affect certain crimes under G.L. c. 265, which prohibit a continuation without a finding.