Inside Juvenile Court:
How the Criminal Justice System Punishes Today’s Juveniles

     The juvenile court system is a bit different than adult court system, and changes are being made everyday. When a juvenile is arrested, just like everything else, the officer must have more than a mere suspicion, there must be probable cause. In some states, police are required to notify a probation officer or other official designated by the juvenile court: in other states, police are required to notify only the child's parents. When a juvenile is arrested s/he is taken to the police station for initial screening, after that the officer then makes a decision whether to terminate the case, divert it to an alternative program, or refer it to juvenile court for formal intake. Intake procedures are designed to screen out cases that do not warrant a formal court hearing.

     The seriousness of the offense is the most important element considered. However, lesser offenses may involve informal hearings, adjudication, and probation supervision is frequently administered at the intake level, without referral to a judge. If a child has been referred on a minor charge, and the intake worker determines that court intervention is not necessary but feels the child needs to be impressed with the seriousness of his or her actions, the worker may lecture the child and to make the warning more impressive, the child may be taken before a judge for a stern reprimand. If it has been decided the child will be submitted to a formal court hearing, a petition is filed. The petition tells exactly what delinquent act was committed and notifies the child of the claims made about his or her misconduct. This petition operates the same way an indictment would for an adult.

     The right to due process of the law (Fifth & Fourteenth Amendment), is still a big issue for the juvenile court system. "The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district." (Sixth) "The right of trial by jury shall be preserved." (Seventh) The jury is to be as one's peers but when a juvenile has a jury trial, the jury is made up of adults, not children. A well know supporter for juveniles getting a fare trial once said: "Neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Gill of Rights if or adults only." In 1971, the issue of whether juveniles had a right to a jury trial was reviewed by the Supreme Court. In McKeiver v Pennsylvania, it was argued that if children were subject to the same incarceration as adults, and our Constitutional rights to a jury trial was for everyone also, so children should get the same rights as adults. The Court did not agree, but they were aware of the imperfections in juvenile court. They also agreed that children should be allowed informal protective proceeding. In the end the Court agreed that additional adult rights would be entered into the proceedings, but it had to be done with great caution.

     Things are still the same when it comes to juvenile jury trial. The Supreme Court in its final decision claims that "a jury trial is an adult right that is not essential in juvenile proceedings," and even played down the value of any jury trial, saying that a jury trial in any case does not ensure competence in the fact-finding function of the proceedings. Juveniles do get everything else the Constitution provides, double jeopardy, and even the death penalty. In 1998 there were 73 people on death row who had committed their offenses while under the age of 18. The Court decided it was unconstitutional to execute a juvenile under the age of 16, and the reasoning for that is because 16 years of age is generally recognized as the age separating childhood from adulthood. In most states, this is the age at which minors are legally allowed to take on some adult responsibilities, like driving a car. The need to preserve an orderly society has been a pervasive concern throughout our nation's history. Every since there were correctional institutions for juveniles, they have been filled to capacity. The criminal justice system and court systems strive everyday to understand juvenile delinquency and find ways of making the justice system more agreeable for both sides.

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