A Comparison of Case Processing under the Young Offenders Act and the First Six Months of the Youth Criminal Justice Act
Current Findings of Guilt
This section looks at the changes over time in the percentage of cases that did not result in any finding of guilt. All charges are included so that “no current guilty finding” means that all charges occurring during the study time frame were withdrawn, stayed, dismissed or otherwise disposed of without a guilty adjudication.
Initially we had intended that the analysis of findings of guilt would look at all cases in the six months monitoring sample (i.e., the combined “pure” post-YCJA and the cases whose proceedings had begun before the Act). An examination of the data revealed that there were some differences between the two subsets in the six months’ monitoring sample (Table 15). It seems that, in terms of adjudication decisions, they were not comparable, primarily in Halifax. In this city, the “pure” post-law group were almost identical to the pre-law sample (83 and 76 percent were found guilty on at least one charge), but this was not true for the third group – only 52 percent were found guilty. A similar phenomenon was noticeable in Vancouver/Surrey for the two subsets of the monitoring data although the difference was not nearly as striking (68 percent versus 57 percent of cases involved a guilty finding).
A second aspect of the guilty finding data is relevant only in the two British Columbia courts. In that province, every six months court administrators receive a list of cases/Informations where all charges were stayed, dismissed, etc. and court registry staff expunge these files from the registry. This practice, which is not found in any of the other study locations, explains the extremely low rate (5 percent) of cases with no guilty findings in Vancouver/Surrey in the baseline dataset. By the time the baseline data collection was undertaken – some two years after the court events – most of these files had been purged. (Presumably, the 5 percent in the baseline sample column represents the few cases that had been missed.) Probably most if not all of the six months’ monitoring data were collected prior to the purging process, thereby making them more representative of the actual situation in the Vancouver and Surrey youth courts.
Most importantly, these data suggest that in the first six months of the YCJA, fewer youth were convicted of their charges in the two Toronto-area courts and in Edmonton. The patterns were similar in Halifax and Winnipeg but the changes were not statistically significant.
Multivariate analysis permits conclusions on the effects of one variable while controlling for the effects of all other variables at the same time. The objective is to determine an appropriate combination of independent variables to explain the outcome of no guilty finding versus one or more guilty finding in the case. The research question here is whether the importance of the key factors changed in the two time periods. Table 16 summarizes the findings, comparing the YOA cases to the total YCJA sample. Vancouver and Surrey were omitted from the analysis for the reasons given above.
In both time periods in all courts, the number of current charges was the most influential factor in whether case involved a finding of guilt – the larger the number of charges dealt with, the more likely that the young person had a guilty finding. In the sample in total, having a prior conviction also increased the likelihood of being convicted. Also in the entire sample, a not guilty plea influenced adjudication in the inverse direction: pleading not guilty lowered the likelihood of being convicted. This phenomenon is common; for a variety of reasons, most often a weak case, the prosecutor stops proceedings either at or before the trial date. Much less frequently, the young person is found not guilty at trial. As explained below in section 3, the “pure” post-legislation cases under-represent the number of not guilty pleas and the lack of difference over time in some sites should be seen as resulting from the timing of data collection.
Interestingly and unexpectedly, the type of charges before the court – indictable or hybrid, person or property, administration of justice or other type of (alleged offence) – was rarely associated with being convicted. (We expected that less serious offences, such as hybrid property charges, would have been more likely to be dealt with by means of a withdrawal or a stay of proceedings.) The finding that hybrid drugs and weapons charges were less likely to result in a conviction is very likely due to the Cannabis Reform Bill, which was introduced into Parliament a few months after the YCJA was proclaimed.
“What were the proportions of guilty pleas versus not guilty pleas and how many not guilty pleas lead to a finding of guilt?” was a research question that could not be answered. Unfortunately the six months’ monitoring dataset did not contain plea data. The data did include whether a trial date was set which, we have assumed, can be interpreted as a not guilty plea. Trial dates were relatively infrequent in the “pure” six months sample but this may be and probably is due to research timing – cases with trial dates may not have been completed at data collection, since there is usually a three month lag between the setting of the date and the actual trial. Incomplete cases were automatically excluded from the sample by the data collectors.
 Only 12 percent of cases which started and were completed after the Act involved a trial date, compared to twice that percentage in the pre-YCJA group.
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