Something that I have learned at Brandeis is to be an investigative thinker and to keep looking for alternatives, counterarguments, and to pose new questions even if you think you have reached a conclusion. This principle is at the crux of effective research and is a sentiment that has pushed me to think creatively in my academic pursuits.
A couple of weeks ago, I was able to shadow an ADA at the Cambridge Juvenile Court. There, I was able to see firsthand how juvenile court operates and was also able to chat with Judge Gloria Tan. That day, Judge Tan had either diverted or dismissed all the cases that came in during her session. I learned that ADAs ultimately decide whether or not to request diversion for a defendant, and are sometimes responsible for searching for alternatives to punishment on the spot if they wish to divert. At the very last second before court was in session for a case regarding online sexual harassment, the ADA frantically emailed a colleague at the office to ask whether we had a program that the defendant could enroll in so that he would not need to be committed to DYS. Fortunately, there is a Cyber Protection program offered at our office, and the ADA agreed with the defense counsel to refer the defendant to the program instead of sentencing him as planned. Although thinking creatively about alternatives is helpful, ADAs are unable to divert unless they have access to and knowledge of alternatives.
Investigative thinking has proven to be especially helpful in my internship as it encourages me to be critical and sensitive to logical patterns and details. One way I have applied this is in the way I have approached my open-ended research project to analyze juvenile court data by charge and disposition. For example, while looking at the juvenile cases database, I noticed that there were a large number of motor vehicle cases. What makes motor vehicle cases different is the fact that these cases are not diversion eligible, creating a category of cases that, if not dismissed or continued, result in probation or commitment to DYS rather than providing an alternative.
There are cases in which a number plate violation or failing to wear a seatbelt can result in DYS sentencing, probation, or the creation of a criminal record. A large number of these motor vehicle cases were non-traffic-related and included offenses such as larceny, unauthorized use, and driving without a license or with a suspended license, among others. Although these offenses are overall unfavorable outcomes, besides larceny, the offenses do not necessarily create a traffic-safety issue and perhaps point towards a more deep-rooted issue that should be addressed by other means that do not require law enforcement.
Further research is necessary to examine the socioeconomic or cultural issues that may play a role in this data point as well as the possible racial disparities that lie in the data. The Vera and Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy program reports on non-traffic stops in Suffolk County have helped me orient myself in my analysis of Middlesex County and juvenile data. You can read more about it from this presentation I made that summarizes key points from both reports.