Summary: On February 6, the SJC held that a judge has discretion to continue a juvenile’s case without a finding and place the juvenile on probation, notwithstanding a jury verdict of delinquency. Defendant, a juvenile, was charged with being a delinquent child for breaking and entering a motor vehicle at night with the intent to commit a felony in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 16. The trial took place in September, 2010, and the jury returned a verdict of “delinquent.” On that same day, the judge who presided issued an order, over the Commonwealth’s objection, that the juvenile’s case be continued without a finding. The issue under consideration by the SJC was whether, notwithstanding the jury verdict, G.L. c. 119, § 58 empowers a Juvenile Court judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding and place the juvenile under supervision of the probation department. The Court found that it does.
Discussion: The SJC interpreted G.L. c. 119, § 58 in light of the principle aim and underlying philosophy of the juvenile justice system as primarily rehabilitative. The Court explained that the language in § 58 authorizes a judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding after conducting a trial where a juvenile has been found delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court further explained that the statute itself doesn’t define what body – a jury or judge – must find sufficient facts for adjudicating the juvenile delinquent, and thus the silence will be read as encompassing both circumstances. The Court ultimately held that in light of statutory language, its placement within the broader statutory scheme, and the philosophy underlying our juvenile justice system, G.L. c. 119, § 58 empowers a judge to continue a delinquency case without a finding notwithstanding the jury verdict of “delinquent.”
Implication: The Court stated that interpreting the statute in this way allows judges the flexibility to place a juvenile under continued supervision by the court, while offering the juvenile the benefit of a dismissal after compliance with the terms of the probation, and will allow the “judge’s presumed expertise in weighing social and psychological factors [to] come into play.” This decision gives a Juvenile Court judge great discretion, and future cases will likely depend upon a case-by-case, fact based inquiry.