Delinquent/Unruly Proceedings

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Rule 201: Preliminary Inquiry and Informal Adjustment.

(a)   Purposes.  The juvenile court preliminary inquiry is intended to:

(1)  Provide for resolution of complaints by excluding from the juvenile court at its inception:

(A) Those matters over which the juvenile court has no jurisdiction;

(B) Those matters in which there appears to be insufficient evidence to support a petition; or

(C) Those matters in which sufficient evidence may exist to bring a child within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court but which are not serious enough to require official action under the juvenile court law or which may be suitably referred to a non-judicial agency available in the community;

(2)  Provide for the commencement of proceedings in the juvenile court by the filing of a petition only when necessary for the welfare of the child or the safety and protection of the public.

(b)  Receipt of Complaint.  Any person or agency having knowledge of the facts may file a complaint with the juvenile court or an officer designated by the court alleging facts to indicate a child is delinquent or unruly. The court representative accepting the complaint shall note thereon the date and time of receipt of the complaint.   

(c)    Duties of Designated Court Officer.  Upon receipt of the complaint, the designated court officer shall:

(1)  Interview or otherwise seek information from the complainant, victim and any witness to the alleged offense.

(2)  Conduct an interview with the child who is the subject of the complaint and the child’s parents, guardian or legal custodian. At the beginning of the interview, the officer shall explain the nature of the complaint and inform the child of the right to counsel, where applicable, that if the child cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed if applicable, and that the child has a right to remain silent and any statements made by the child will not be admissible in any proceeding prior to the dispositional hearing.

(A) If the child invokes the right to an attorney, the designated court officer shall immediately suspend the interview, allow for the appointment or retention of counsel, and reschedule the matter.

(B) If the child chooses to proceed with the interview without counsel, the designated court officer shall obtain a written waiver from the child and proceed with the interview.

(3)  If the designated court officer determines that the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over the matter or there appears to be insufficient evidence to support the complaint, then the complaint shall be closed and no further action taken by the court.

(d)  Informal Adjustment.  (1) If the designated court officer determines that the matter is not serious

enough to require official action before the juvenile court judge, then the designated court officer may remedy the situation by giving counsel and advice to the parties through an informal adjustment. In determining whether informal adjustment should be undertaken, the designated court officer may consider:

(A) Whether the child has had a problem in the home, school or community which indicates that counsel and advice would be desirable;

(B) Whether the child and the parents, guardian or legal custodian seem able to resolve the matter with the assistance of the designated court officer or other court staff, and without formal juvenile court action;

(C) Whether further observation or evaluation by the designated court officer is needed before a decision can be reached;

(D) The attitude of the child, parents, guardian, or legal custodian;

(E) The concerns of the victim, child, the parents, guardian, or legal custodian, and/or any other affected persons or agencies;

(F) The age, maturity and mental condition of the child;

(G) The prior history or record, if any, of the child;

(H) The recommendation, if any, of the referring party or agency;

(I) The results of any mental health, drug and alcohol or other assessments or screenings of the child; and

(J)  Any other circumstances which indicate that informal adjustment would be consistent with the best interest of the child and the public.

(2)  The informal adjustment shall not occur without the consent of the child and the child’s parents, guardian or other legal custodian. Prior to giving consent, the child must be notified that participation is optional and may be terminated by the child at any time.

(3)  The informal adjustment process shall not continue beyond a period of 3 months from its commencement unless such extension is approved by the court for an additional period not to exceed a total of 6 months. 

(4)  Upon successful completion of a period of informal adjustment, the complaint shall be closed and no further action taken by the court. If a petition has been filed, then the petition shall be dismissed with prejudice.

(5)  The designated court officer may terminate the informal adjustment and proceed with formal court action if at any time the child or the child's parents, guardian or legal custodian:

(A) Declines to participate further in the informal adjustment process;

(B) Denies the jurisdiction of the juvenile court over the instant matter;

(C) Expresses a desire that the facts be determined by the court;

(D) Fails to comply with the terms of the informal adjustment program.

(6)  Upon termination of the informal adjustment process, the designated court officer shall notify the child and the child's parent, guardian or legal custodian thereof, and the victim. The termination shall be reported to the court. Such notification shall include the basis for the termination.  

(e) Informal Adjustment Determined Inappropriate. If the designated court officer determines informal adjustment to be inappropriate, then formal court proceedings shall commence with the filing of a petition or citation.

(f) Statements of Child. Any statements made by the child during the preliminary inquiry or informal adjustment are not admissible in any proceeding prior to the dispositional hearing.

Advisory Commission Comments.

The 2016 amendment combines two previous rules regarding intake in and informal adjustment in delinquent and unruly cases. The intent of this rule is to allow local courts flexibility in how they handle informal adjustment, but also to spell out those basic procedures which must take place in every case in which informal adjustment is undertaken to ensure that informal adjustment is voluntary, as required in T.C.A § 37-1-110.

The requirement in subdivision (b) that the court representative accepting a complaint shall note thereon the date and time of receipt of the complaint has been added to ensure that complaints are reduced to writing and documentation exists as to when the complaint was received. The term “complaint” includes, but is not limited to, a petition or citation. The complaint may be filed with the clerk of the court or another person designated by the court. The term “complaint” as used in these rules is not equivalent to a complaint referenced in the Rules of Civil Procedure.

As part of the preliminary inquiry, subdivision (c) requires the designated court officer to notify the child of the child’s right to an attorney at the beginning of the interview with the child. T.C.A. § 37-1-126 provides that a child is entitled to be represented by an attorney in any delinquent proceeding. A child is entitled to an attorney when charged with an unruly offense when the child is in jeopardy of being removed from the home pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-1-132(b). Not all children charged with an unruly offense are entitled to an attorney. The right attaches when the child is in jeopardy of being placed outside the child’s home with a person, agency or facility. Prior to placing custody of an unruly child with the Department of Children’s Services, the court is obligated to refer the child to the Department’s juvenile-family crisis intervention program pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-1-168. A child’s assertion of the right to counsel should not preclude an informal adjustment when appropriate.

It should be noted that, although attitude may be a factor under subdivision (d)(1)(iv) to consider in determining whether to undertake informal adjustment, it should not be the sole basis for denying informal adjustment.  Each locality is encouraged to adopt and implement standardized risk and needs assessment tools in order to assist in this process.

In many instances, the child or the child’s family may desire to pay the alleged victim for any harm done. If the child and the victim agree to restitution, this can be done independently of the informal adjustment.

Subdivision(e) provides that when an informal adjustment is determined to be inappropriate then formal court proceedings shall commence with the filing of a petition or citation. If a petition has not been filed at this point in time, then such petition should be filed with the clerk of the court. If a citation has been filed that meets the requirements of T.C.A. § 40-7-118, then a petition need not be filed in order to commence formal proceedings. If an informal adjustment is determined to be inappropriate, the designated court officer should assess whether a pretrial diversion is appropriate.

Courts should develop written local procedures and criteria for initiating informal adjustments. Such criteria might include a listing of the types of cases, or charges, which might be handled by informal adjustment. Local rules should include a process by which the district attorney general, petitioner, or victim of the offense may object to an informal adjustment.

[As amended by order filed December 21, 2016, effective July 1, 2017.]

Advisory Commission Comments [2017].

The rule is amended by deleting the last sentence of subdivision 201(d)(3). That sentence (which provided, "The process shall only include counsel and advice, or referral to an agency available in the community for successful completion of a suitable treatment program, class or some form of alternative dispute resolution") was intended to have been deleted in the comprehensive revision of the Rules of Juvenile Procedure effective July 1, 2016, but was inadvertently included in the revision.

Additionally, the fifth paragraph of the original Advisory Commission Comment is amended by deleting references to subdivision 201(d)(3), which also should have been removed in the comprehensive revision of the Rules of Juvenile Procedure

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