2 minute read

Juvenile Law and Justice

The "system"

For all the tenderness associated with the age group, the new juvenile courts cast a large net, and many juveniles found themselves involuntarily caught up in a system of courts and state agencies. Foster homes and reform schools, though well intentioned, were unattractive to many juveniles, and many poor parents were forcibly deprived of their children. Despite its shortcomings, the juvenile court system was arguably successful in reigning in a growing problem of youth vagrancy and crime. The power of the juvenile law model grew in popularity throughout the twentieth century, and all states now maintain a separate juvenile code in their statutes. The federal government has a juvenile court system, but it only deals with juveniles under the age of eighteen who are accused of committing a federal crime.

When a juvenile is suspected of committing a crime, he or she may be arrested and brought to jail and then released or detained through the adjudication. The jail may or may not be the same secure facility that houses adults; juveniles should be kept separate from adult populations, but that is not always possible. At the adjudication, juveniles have the right to: notice of the charges; confront and question witnesses; present testimony; be free from self-incrimination; and be represented by an attorney. The prosecution has discretion to charge as much or as little as he or she sees fit. In any case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile committed the criminal act that is charged; this is the burden of proof that is required to convict adults. Juveniles accused of crimes do not have the right to a free, court-appointed attorney unless they are accused of a serious crime that warrants commitment to a secure facility. In most cases, though, a juvenile court judge will appoint an attorney to represent a juvenile who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

If a juvenile accused of a crime is found to have committed the offense, he or she is adjudged "delinquent." The disposition of the case is then in the discretion of the juvenile court judge. Depending on the crime committed, a juvenile delinquent may be placed on probation, ordered to perform community service, ordered to pay a fine, ordered to pay restitution, or ordered to perform, or refrain from, any number of specific acts. These measures may be combined in any way by the juvenile court judge.

The most severe disposition of a juvenile adjudication is placement of the juvenile in a secure facility. These facilities are called reformatories, youth development centers, or some other name that connotes rehabilitation. Although the facilities are designed to rehabilitate and educate juvenile delinquents, they are similar to prisons in that they are structured to prevent escape. A juvenile may be committed to such a facility for a length of days or years, depending on the offense committed. In any case, a juvenile may be held in a secure facility for an adjudication of juvenile delinquency only until a prescribed age. This age varies from state to state and ranges anywhere from 18 to 21 years.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesJuvenile Law and Justice - Juvenile Courts, The "system", Juvenile Or Adult?, Juvenile Law, Further Readings