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Purpose clauses, 2016

  • No clause

  • Parens patriae

  • Due process era

  • Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ)

  • Developmental Approach

Tennessee’s purpose clause aligns with language found in the Legislative Guide for Drafting Family and Juvenile Court Acts (1969) and other phrases of the due process era, stating a purpose to "provide a simple judicial which...parties are assured a fair hearing and their constitutional and other legal rights [are] recognized and enforced and mentions uniform application of laws throughout the state." It also mentions interstate cooperation and compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act for child custody proceedings, which are rarely mentioned in other state's purpose clauses.    

TN ST §37-1-101

Intake and diversion, 2016

Initial intake and diversion decision is at the discretion of the juvenile court intake officer.

In Tennessee, juvenile statute grants each court authority to designate criteria for diversion programs and procedures for court intake officers and/or designated (executive branch) youth services officers (JPO) and notifications to district attorneys general (DA)’s, etc. so practices among jurisdictions vary. Provisions include short-term use of “juvenile-family crisis intervention programs” without notifying the court. If the family crisis persists or placement becomes the only recommendation, the program must file a complaint with the court. When a child is brought before the court or delivered to a court-designated detention or shelter facility, the JPO will immediately make an investigation and authorize the temporary placement or release the child within 24 hours. A more formal shelter or detention hearing must be held within 24-84 hours of that determination, depending on allegations and whether the placement is secure or non-secure. A petition must be filed when the child is not released. 

Otherwise, once a court referral/petition is received (unruly or delinquent), the JPO is permitted by statute to make the decision for non-judicial informal handling and provide referrals, counsel and advice, or informal adjustment for up to 3 months. Holding cases open ‘informally’ is discouraged in court rules, however, in favor of a more formal pretrial diversion, requiring that the petition is authorized for formal filing.  The court may accept the petition, or conduct a hearing on a pending petition for decisions about further court action. 

Once a petition is filed and authorized to initiate a hearing, the JPO may agree to suspend proceedings and continue the child under supervision under negotiated terms and conditions approved by the court, when the child does not wish to contest allegations and parties agree to “pretrial diversion.” Written plans can include terms and conditions that last for up to 6 months, but can be extended 6 more months with approval of the court, while judgment is deferred. Referrals can be made to “juvenile-family crisis intervention programs” or teen court programs. Upon successful completion of terms and conditions, the petition is dismissed. Teen court programs involve a community panel that can make non-placement recommendations for a child alleged delinquent or unruly, which must be affirmed by the court. Conditions can include restitution, community service, driving restrictions, participating as a teen court member, educational workshops (substance abuse, safe driving, victim awareness), curfew limits, school attendance, essay writing or other school/research projects, or others pre-approved by the court. If placement is the only recommendation, the matter must be referred back to the court.

Statutory time limits for pre- & post-petition court diversions exist.

In Tennessee, statute permits court-authorized local variations, so timeframes may vary. Court diversion agreements can occur before a petition is accepted to implement informal adjustments for no longer than 3 months.  Once a petition is formally filed and authorized, the matter can be monitored by the JPO for up to 6 months without judicial review, and can be extended 6 more months with judicial approval while judgement is deferred. 

Courtroom shackling, 2015

No statewide restriction

Tennessee HB 626/S 608 was introduced in 2015

Competency, 2015

In Tennessee, the Rules of Juvenile Procedure include when a child is believed to be “mentally incompetent to proceed with [a delinquency or unruly] adjudication hearing.” Tennessee does not specifically define ‘incompetent to proceed’ using both Dusky standard elements. There is no statutory requirement to appoint an attorney for juveniles in this position. The court has discretion to stay proceedings pending a determination of the child’s mental condition. If mental illness is alleged during the course of transfer proceedings, however, the court shall order examination, because youth cannot be transferred if considered ‘committable’ to an institution for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill. A rebuttable presumption exists that evidence of commission of felonious acts or recidivistic delinquency is sufficient to sustain a finding that the child is in need of treatment or rehabilitation.

  • No juvenile standard

  • Juvenile standard is the adult standard

  • Juvenile justice standard exists

  • JJ standard includes developmental immaturity

Sex offender registration, 2015


About this project

Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice, Statistics) is a project to develop a repository providing state policy makers and system stakeholders with a clear understanding of the juvenile justice landscape in the states.

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