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Juvenile Courts - Regulating And Setting Standards

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Though the social reformers who helped establish juvenile courts were fighting for the rights of children, juveniles entering the juvenile justice system had no legal rights. Three cases helped restore legal rights to children and establish some standards in the juvenile courts across the country. Kent vs. United States (1966), and In re Gault (1967) restored to accused juveniles the right to a fair trial and the right to counsel. Kent, a 16-year-old on probation through juvenile court, was accused of robbery and rape. His case was waived from juvenile court to adult court and in so doing, Kent should have been afforded the privileges given any adult accused of a crime. In re Gault was a landmark case altering the procedures and rights of the accused within the juvenile court system. Gault, a 15-year-old with no previous juvenile record, was accused and sentenced for making obscene phone calls to a neighbor. He was provided with no attorney, the witnesses and complainant did not appear at his hearing, and he was presumed guilty without proof and sent to reform school until the age of 21. His parents appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles had the right to due process of law, including representation and the right to cross-examine witnesses, even in juvenile court.

In re Winship (1970) determined that when juveniles were accused of offenses that would be crimes if committed by an adult, proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt had to be established before conviction. Thanks to these three cases, when a juvenile appears in a juvenile court or his case is waived to adult court, he has the right to counsel, to be informed of his offense, to cross-exam witnesses, to receive a transcript of the proceedings, to appeal the decision, and to be protected from self-incrimination. His accuser must provide a preponderance of evidence against him. In juvenile court, however, he does not have the right to a jury trial as long as the presiding judge is fair, impartial, and due process is served, according to McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1976).

In an effort to provide guidelines to state juvenile courts, and aid in reducing juvenile delinquency, two programs were established in 1974 within the United States Justice Department. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention assists state and local governments in improving the juvenile court system and preventing delinquency. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act provides grants for reforming juvenile court procedures and providing counseling and educational programs to prevent delinquency.

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