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The Massachusetts Trial Court recently released a report entitled Disposition and Sentencing Best Practices in Delinquency and Youthful Offender Matters, which is intended to provide juvenile court judges with guidance on how to consider dispositions; it’s something that juvenile defenders across the country could find very useful. This juvenile-specific report is part of a larger effort to create more informed sentencing in all the state’s courts.  In it, the Court cites to adolescent development research, studies on desistance, the importance of positive youth development, the impact of implicit bias, the effects of collateral consequences, and the importance of procedural justice – among other things – as issues judges should be thinking about at disposition.

Among the many practice tips (and supporting justification) defenders from any jurisdiction may be able to glean from this are:

  • advising the court (and the prosecutor and probation) that holding your client to "teach him a lesson" doesn't help;it hurts (p.6 at para.7)
  • arguing to the judge that, despite the seemingly serious charge, probation with individualized narrowly tailored conditions is the most appropriate sentence (not commitment) for both the public safety and the healthy development of your client (p.6 at para. 9, p.15, p.19)
  • advocating against the finding of probation violations and/or the imposition of stricter conditions (or commitment) when a client has an imperfect performance on probation (p.16-17)
  • advocating for the use of diversion to anyone who will listen (p.7 at para. 15, p.14, p.18)

Congratulations to Joshua Dohan, Holly Smith, and the rest of the team at the Committee for Public Counsel Services' Youth Advocacy Department for their leadership and guidance that contributed greatly to this Court-backed report.

Click here to download the report.