Glossary: D


When youth appear as adults in criminal court, judges in some states may transfer jurisdiction to the juvenile court. The “decertification” process (sometimes called “reverse waiver”) occurs before trial and restores the protections and rehabilitative focus of the juvenile justice system.

Delinquency Proceeding

A hearing in juvenile court to determine if a youth committed the delinquent act of which s/he is accused, and if so, what consequences should be imposed. Delinquency proceedings are adversarial and similar in many ways to criminal proceedings. During the first stage, the adjudication hearing, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a delinquent act occurred and that the accused youth committed the act. The juvenile has several procedural rights, including the right to an attorney, the right to present evidence, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. If a youth is adjudicated delinquent, a judge enters a disposition specifying what treatment, services, and consequences serve the best interests of the youth and the community.

Delinquent Act / Offense

An act committed by a youth that would constitute a crime if committed by an adult. Traffic violations and petty offenses that are punished with small fines are generally not considered to be delinquent offenses, nor are status offenses like truancy or running away from home. Some states exclude certain serious offenses from the “delinquent act” definition so that youth who commit those acts will be tried in criminal court. Pennsylvania, for example, considers murder to be a criminal act rather than a delinquent act, even if the offender is a child.


In Pennsylvania, the term dependency is used to describe when a child or youth is involved with the court and child welfare system because of abuse or neglect.  Sometimes you will hear the term “dependency system” or “dependent child.”  


Temporary custody of a juvenile before trial in a secure confinement facility. Detention is imposed after a judge determines that a youth must remain in custody prior to a delinquency proceeding for his/her own protection or the protection of society, or to ensure his/her appearance at the hearing. Detention for youth is different from jail for adults, both because juveniles do not have a right to bail and because youth in detention generally receive education and treatment services.

Direct File

A prosecutor’s discretion to bring charges against youth directly in adult criminal court instead of in juvenile court, without a prior certification hearing. States that permit this practice vary in what circumstances warrant it, but all consider the offender’s age and history and the nature of the offense.

Discharge Plan

Another term for a transition plan. See also “Transition Plan.”


The stage of a delinquency proceeding comparable to the sentencing stage of an adult criminal trial. A disposition hearing is only held if a youth has pleaded guilty to an offense or is found guilty by the judge. Based on information provided by a youth’s defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the local probation department, the judge determines the youth’s needs and how best to meet them, while still ensuring the public’s protection. Judges generally place the youth under some type of supervision such as probation or placement in a secure confinement facility, and mandate services and/or participation in certain treatment or programming. The duration of this supervision and services varies, but cannot extend beyond the juvenile court’s maximum age of jurisdiction (typically, age 21).

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC)

The inequitable representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. The term includes overrepresentation of youth of color at particular points in the system (arrest, referral to court, detention, etc.) as compared to their percentage in the general population, as well as the disparate and harsher treatment administered to youth of color at key decision points (i.e., length of disposition, whether to transfer a youth to adult criminal court, etc.). Through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the federal government provides incentives for states to investigate and reduce DMC in the juvenile justice system.

District Attorney/Prosecutor

The lawyer who represents the state and brings a case against a defendant.


A system of procedures and programs designed to channel certain youth away from the formal juvenile court process. States and localities have created various ways for first-time offenders, non-violent offenders, and youth whose delinquent behavior stems from mental health or substance abuse needs to receive appropriate treatment and services from community-based programs. Diversion programs hold youth accountable for their actions without burdening them with a juvenile record and the stigma of a delinquency label.

Dual Status

A designation for youth involved in dependency court because of abuse or neglect and also involved in the juvenile justice system because of delinquent behavior.

Due Process

A principle of fairness in legal matters as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Due process for the accused includes the right to an attorney, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to appeal a decision. Depending on the situation, different processes may apply. For example, the steps necessary to ensure the equitability of a child’s suspension from school differ from the steps necessary to ensure a juvenile’s fair transfer to adult criminal court.