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Information about juvenile court adjudication and dispositions

This page includes information about youth adjudications (judgment) and dispositions (sentencing) in Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

Youth Adjudications

The court's finding of "delinquent" or "not delinquent" in a given case is called an adjudication. Adjudications are made after a jury or bench trial, or after a plea. 

If the charges against a youth are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will find the youth "delinquent." This is the equivalent in an adult court of being "convicted" or "found guilty." From here, the youth's case will move on to the disposition phase.

If the charges against a youth are not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the court will find the youth "not delinquent." This is the equivalent of being found "not guilty" in an adult court. In this situation, the youth's case is closed. 

Before an adjudication, a judge can decide to continue a case without entering a formal adjudication into the youth's record. This is called "continued without a finding" or CWOF. In a CWOF case, the youth's case can be dismissed if the youth meets all their conditions of probation while they are supervised, including not committing additional delinquent offenses. The youth will not have a record of a delinquent adjudication if they successfully complete their probation, although the fact that they were arraigned and their case was continued without a finding will appear on their court record. 

Statewide data on adjudication decisions for youth is not currently available. 

The Middlesex District Attorney's Office provides data on adjudications and dispositions for Middlesex County on their website

Youth Dispositions

Dispositions can be described as the final outcome of a case. In adult court, this is referred to as a "sentence." Common options for dispositions in juvenile court include:

  • placing the youth on probation for a period of time
  • committing a youth to the custody of the Department of Youth Services (DYS)
  • giving the youth a suspended DYS sentence
  • giving the youth a full or partial adult sentence if the youth was adjudicated as a Youthful Offender.

Statewide data on disposition decisions for youth is not currently available. 

The Middlesex District Attorney's Office does provide data on adjudications and dispositions for Middlesex County on their website

About the Data

Definitions:

Adjudication: The court's determination of whether the accused youth is guilty or not guilty in delinquency matters. 

Bench trial: The trial of a case before a judge without a jury.

Beyond a reasonable doubt: The highest standard of proof in a delinquency case. The judge or jury deciding the case must decide "to a moral certainty" that the youth committed the offense. This is a certainty that convinces one's understanding and satisfies reason and judgment.

Commitment: The most serious disposition for a delinquent youth that gives DYS custody of the youth until their 18th birthday, or until their 21st birthday for youthful offenders.

Conditions of probation: Conditions set by the judge that youth are required to follow to remain on probation and be successful. There are “general” conditions of probation that every supervised youth is required to follow, and “special” conditions of probation that may be set specifically for each individual.

Continued Without a Finding (CWOF): A decision that a judge can make after a defendant has admitted that the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt or after a trial in which the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. By continuing a case without a finding (of delinquency or guilt) the judge gives the defendant a chance to avoid having an official record of conviction 

Disposition: The final outcome of a case, sometimes called the "sentence"

Plea: A juvenile's answer in court of "delinquent" or "not delinquent" to the charge(s) against them.

Probation: A youth adjudicated delinquent can be supervised by a probation officer as they remain in the community and follow their conditions of probation. If the youth violates their conditions, their probation officer can bring the youth back to court, where their probation can be revoked. 

Suspended DYS sentence: A disposition that gives youth the opportunity to be placed on probation with a DYS commitment possibility. If the youth successfully completes their probation term, they will not be committed to DYS. If they violate their probation, a judge may commit them to DYS. 

Youthful Offender: A person who is subject to an adult or juvenile sentence for committing an offense while between the ages of 14 and 18 which could send an adult to state prison. This applies only under special conditions depending on the seriousness of the offense and the offender's prior record. For more information, see M.G.L. Chapter 119 Section 58.

Definitions for juvenile justice terms adapted from "Kids and the Law: A User's Guide to the Juvenile Court" 4th ed. by Rebecca Pries, LMHC and Carol Rosensweig, Esq. Click here for an electronic copy and more information.

Date published: November 2, 2020
Last updated: November 2, 2020
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