Juvenile Justice Division
The No. 1 task of the Juvenile Justice Unit is to prosecute the most serious crimes committed by youngsters under age 18 in Cuyahoga County.
But from its creation in the early years of the 20th Century, Cuyahoga County’s Juvenile Court has aimed not just to punish youths who break the law, but to set them on a better path in life. That is a tradition the Prosecutor’s Office also embraces, and everyone in the Juvenile Justice Unit is encouraged to work with the court and its affiliated service providers to offer support and guidance to those young defendants who want to avoid a life of crime.
Learn more about the Juvenile Justice Unit
How the Juvenile Justice Unit Works
Crime Prevention Efforts
The Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys and support staff dedicated to the Juvenile Justice Unit of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for the charging and prosecution of juveniles accused of all delinquency offenses within Cuyahoga County.
One of Prosecutor O'Malley's goals is to ensure all offenses committed by juveniles are charged fairly and commensurately with the crimes committed.
The Juvenile Justice system does not have a Grand Jury to review the facts and circumstances contained in a police report. Therefore, juvenile Prosecutors are working 365 days a year charging juveniles. The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division also has an intake staff that is primarily responsible for charging the cases occurring in the suburbs. Prosecutors attend arraignments, which are the initial hearings for juveniles charged with a delinquency. At the arraignment, the juvenile is read the charges against him and his constitutional rights are reviewed with him.
If the juvenile was arrested on the previous evening, and was admitted into the Juvenile Justice Detention Center, then a determination is held the following morning. The determination is presided over by a Magistrate who decides whether the juvenile should remain in the detention center until his first pre-trial hearing with a Judge, whether he can be released to a less restrictive community setting outside the detention center, or whether he can be sent home.
Prior to the first pre-trial hearing, Prosecutors respond to discovery requests filed by defense attorneys on behalf of their juvenile clients. Discovery responses occur electronically and require constant updates by the Prosecutor handling the case.
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As in the adult system, cases are resolved either by a plea or through a trial. Before entering a plea arrangement with a juvenile, the Prosecutor contacts the victims and law enforcement personnel in order to confer about how a case should be resolved. The Prosecutor then reviews the case with his or her supervisor. As representatives of the people of Cuyahoga County, the Prosecutor’s Office makes the final determination as to whether the State will accept a juvenile’s plea. Alternatively, a Prosecutor may counter with a different resolution or proceed to trial.
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Juvenile Court focuses on rehabilitation. By helping less dangerous, lower-level offenders through alternative programs, the justice system can prevent recidivism and focus resources on the more violent, repeat offenders. One alternative resolution is the Court’s Diversion Program. About 45% of the cases charged by the Court’s intake unit are resolved through Diversion. First time, juvenile offenders charged with misdemeanors or low-level felonies are given the opportunity to work with the Court’s Diversion Officers. If approved for the program, juveniles make restitution, where available, and abide by certain conditions in order to satisfy program requirements. If successfully completed, the charge is dismissed.
Commitment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services
If a juvenile pleas or is found delinquent following trial, he attends a disposition hearing. At this stage, the Judge hears from the Prosecutor, victim, law enforcement, the juvenile, and his attorney in order to determine sentencing.
The most stringent sanction is commitment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS). A Judge may receive a request for early release from a juvenile in ODYS. When this occurs, the Prosecutor’s Office responds and attends a hearings related to the early release request. Prosecutors also respond to requests from juveniles to expunge their records and are responsible for prosecuting juvenile traffic cases.
Some juveniles however, commit such significant offenses that Prosecutors seek a mandatory bind-over, where the case is sent to the adult courts for disposition. In addition to mandatory bind-overs, Prosecutors may seek a discretionary bind-over for those juveniles whose criminal history is too significant to overlook and would be better suited to the adult system.
Given the importance of vertical prosecution, where a single prosecutor follows a case from inception through resolution, additional resources will ensure better familiarity with the case and greater continuity for victims and witnesses.
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Many of the adults who pass through the adult criminal justice system began their criminal habits as juveniles. Prosecutor O'Malley recognizes that youth offenders often turn to a life of crime; thus, preventing crime among juveniles is just as important to our office as the prosecution of juvenile crimes. Youth in Cuyahoga County need good role models and programs available to help them understand personal responsibility, their role in society and how they can avoid both being victimized and committing crimes that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
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