Courtroom Narratives: The Influence of Talk in Juvenile Dispositional Outcomes

Emily Klein
Nahid Rohani
Elosisa Nevarez
Jason Clark-Miller, Montana State University

Despite an impressive body of research and a great deal of agreement on the factors associated with punishment recommendations and influential in legal outcomes, relatively few studies have focused on the underlying discursive process of interpretation and construction that inspires legal decision-making. While these previous findings are important, our focus is on the narrative accounts of judges, juveniles, etc., as they occur within the context of juvenile disposition hearings. Using data derived from a team ethnographic study our research pays particular attention to how organizational accounts (i.e. the narratives of courtroom actors) make meaningful the factor identified by the previous researchers. We also consider how judges and other court officers use these narratives to justify the appropriateness of the dispositional outcomes. Our research demonstrates that legal narratives are not used haphazardly, nor are they merely the enactment of individual preferences and personalities. We find evidence that legal discourse is socially constructed and collectively shared among juvenile court officers. More importantly, we find that these narratives are used in systematic manner to justify legal decision-making to a non-judicial audience.

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Updated 05/20/2006