The transition from parens patriae to due process in the New York family court: Effects on the courtroom interaction of judge and lawyers, and the disposition of juvenile cases
Ross, James Justin
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Based on systematic observations of interactions between the presiding judge and lawyers appearing in 276 juvenile proceedings adjudicated in a Family Court in a large metropolitan county in New York State, this study examines the effects of the legal and extralegal characteristics of a case on courtroom behavior of judge and lawyers, and the effects of those behaviors on case processing outcomes. The legal characterisitics include offense type (delinquent or status) and pretrial detention status; the extra legal characteristics include gender, race, and age. The main research questions were, (1) Do legal and extra legal characteristics affect the degree to which the courtroom interaction is guided by the norms of parens patriae or due process; and (2) Does the interpersonal behavior of the courtroom workgroup affect the dispostion of the case. The behaviors of the courtroom workgroup members were coded using three bipolar scales derived from Bales’ systems for interactive process analysis and adjective rating of group members’ interpersonal behavior: dominant versus passive behavior, collegiality versus adversarialness, legalistic versus emotional behavior. Collegiality and emotional behavior are indicators of parens patriæ norms in play, and legalistic and adversarial behaviors are indicators of due process norms. Findings indicate the courtroom workgroup shows more use of “due process” norms when adjudicating a delinquency petition, that is, they became more adversarial (i.e., less collegial) when dealing with a delinquency petition. Both the judge and the agency attorneys also became more legalistic when dealing with a juvenile who was detained before adjudication. Generally, the courtroom workgroup members tended to be more collegial as well as less legalistic with females, suggesting that parens patriæ norms are more likely to be operative. Race of the juvenile alone was not a predictor of “due process” norms, but the juvenile's race interacts with offense type, such that the workgroup interactions are more likely to be guided by “due process” norms for non-white delinquents as compared to white delinquents. Additionally, there was evidence that both collegiality and legalistic behavior of courtroom workgroup members affected severity of disposition, as indicated by placement of juveniles out of the home and harshness of punishment. A more adversial and procedurally formal system increases the likelihood of an unfavorable result for juveniles. Although the legal variable of pretrial detention and the extra-legal variable of gender played a significant role in predicting placement out of the home, the effects of courtroom workgroup members’ behavior on case disposition cannot be overlooked.