C H A P T E R 18
Juvenile Justice: An Overview
The juvenile justice system in the United States is based on the philosophy that, as minors, young offenders
have a special status that requires that they be protected and corrected and not necessarily punished. Given
this special status, juveniles can come to the attention of the courts as delinquents, for having violated the
criminal law; as status offenders, for having departed from the behavior expected of youths; and as dependent
or neglected children, for having been the victims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Juvenile justice processing is grounded in the notion of parens patriae, which holds that the state must
intervene when a child’s natural protectors are either unwilling or unable to provide appropriate care. Until
comparatively recently, therefore, juvenile offenders were rarely treated with the “due process of law” accorded
to adults by the Bill of Rights.
Much of juvenile justice is informal, with a wide degree of discretion permitted at every stage. Police who take
juveniles into custody have the options of releasing them with a reprimand, referring them to police-based
diversion programs, or detaining them for court processing. Similar discretionary alternatives are apparent in
the juvenile courts. The actual process is viewed as a civil matter. It is not considered a trial, there is no jury,
and the judge presides in behalf of the child.
It was not until 1966 that the U.S. Supreme Court first evaluated juvenile court proceedings and the
constitutional rights of children. Kent v. United States brought the juvenile justice system within the framework
of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Subsequently, In re Gault (1967), In re Winship (1970), and Breed v.
Jones (1975) extended basic due process rights to juvenile court proceedings.
Although juvenile justice philosophy and procedure have attempted to provide fair and beneficial treatment for
children, the system as a whole suffers from some major problems. First, status offender laws in many
jurisdictions place nondelinquent youths in contact with criminals and reduce the ability of the juvenile courts to
deal effectively with youths involved in serious criminal conduct. Second, there are questions about the
wisdom of transferring delinquents to the adult courts for formal criminal processing. Third, the widespread
practice of confining juveniles in detention facilities has placed the health and welfare of many youths at high
risk. Fourth, regardless of the disposition of juvenile delinquents and status offenders, little is known regarding
the effectiveness of juvenile correctional approaches. Nevertheless, support for juvenile rehabilitation seems
to persist in the United States.
CHAPTER TOPIC OUTLINE
1. The Special Status of Children. Because of their special status, there are restrictions placed on children
that do not apply to adults. Moreover, the juvenile justice system in the United States was designed with
the philosophy that the special status of children required that they be protected and corrected, not
2. The Nature of Juvenile Justice
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a. Status offenders
b. Juveniles who violate the criminal law
c. Juveniles in need of the court’s protection
3. The Emergence of Juvenile Justice
a. House of Refuge (See also Exhibit 18.1, Historical Perspectives on Crime and Justice: The House
b. Parens patriae
c. Illinois Juvenile Court Act
d. Modern juvenile courts
4. The Processing of Juvenile Offenders
Exhibit 18.2, Historical Perspectives on Crime and Justice: The “Child Savers”
Exhibit 18.3, Law and Criminal Justice: The Juvenile Justice System
a. Police encounters with juveniles
b. The decision to release or detain
c. Petition and intake
d. Bail and detention
e. Adjudication and disposition
5. Juveniles and the Constitution
a. Due process and juvenile proceedings
In re Gault (1967) (See Exhibit 18.4, Law and Criminal Justice: In re Gault.)
In re Winship (1970): ruling that required proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for an adjudication
Breed v. Jones (1975): ruling that extended the Fifth Amendment protection against double
jeopardy to juveniles
McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971): ruling that due process does not require a jury in juvenile
b. Police encounters with juveniles
Juveniles and Miranda
Uniform Juvenile Court Act
In loco parentis
New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985): ruling that school officials, with reasonable grounds to believe that
the law is being violated, may conduct reasonable searches needed to maintain order, safety,
and discipline in school
6. Critical Issues in Juvenile Justice
7. Status Offenders
Exhibit 18.5, International Perspectives on Crime and Justice: Street Kids in Russia
8. Juveniles in the Adult Courts
a. Jurisdiction by age
b. Waiver of jurisdiction
c. Kent v. United States (See Exhibit 18.6, Law and Criminal Justice: Kent v. United States.)
d. Stanford v. Kentucky: overruled in 2005
e. Roper v. Simmons (See Exhibit 18.7, Law and Criminal Justice: Roper v. Simmons.)
9. Juvenile Detention
a. Schall v. Martin (1984): Preventive detention is permissible for accused juvenile delinquents when
there is evidence that the youth presents a serious risk of committing a crime before adjudication of
b. Juvenile corrections
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10. Is Child Saving Dead?
Other Topics of Interest:
Critical Thinking in Criminal Justice: “The Color of Justice”
Careers in Criminal Justice: Juvenile Probations Officers
Famous Criminals: Lionel Tate
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
adjudication intake hearing
adjudication hearing Kent v. United States
adjudication inquiry McKeiver v. Pennsylvania
Breed v. Jones New Jersey v. T.L.O.
delinquency parens patriae
detention hearing Roper v. Simmons
disposition hearing Schall v. Martin
Illinois Juvenile Court Act status offenders
in loco parentis status offense
In re Gault waiver of jurisdiction
In re Winship
After a thorough study of Chapter 18, students should be able to answer the following questions:
1. In American justice, what are the differences between adults and juveniles?
2. What is the philosophy of the juvenile justice system?
3. What are status offenders? Even though they have not committed crimes, why are they dealt with by
the juvenile courts?
4. How is juvenile justice different from the rest of the criminal justice system?
5. What rights do juvenile offenders have when being processed by the juvenile justice system?
6. What is a waiver of jurisdiction?
SUPPLEMENTARY LECTURE MATERIALS
JUVENILES AND THE INFANCY DEFENSE
Can a youth use the defense of infancy when brought before a juvenile court? This question was addressed
by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1985 (Gammons v. Berlat, 37 CrL 2033 ).
The 13-year-old petitioner in this case had been arrested for sexual abuse and sexual conduct with a minor.
When charged with delinquency in a juvenile court, he requested a hearing to determine his legal capacity to
understand the wrongfulness of his conduct pursuant to the Arizona Criminal Code. This statute in question
A person less than fourteen years old at the time of the conduct charged is not criminally responsible in
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the absence of clear proof that at the time of committing the conduct charged the person knew it was
The court held that the presumption of incapacity for children under age 14 embodied in the state criminal
code is applicable to juvenile court proceedings because it is obvious that by enacting separate provisions for
the disposition of juvenile offenders the legislature intended that different standards be applied in juvenile
This raises the logical question: If the statute does not apply to juvenile court cases, and since the law can
apply only to juveniles, why does it remain in the statute books? The Arizona Supreme Court answered this
question by pointing out that it applied to youths under age 14 who were being tried in the adult courts.
It should be pointed out here that there are similar laws in other states. However, in California (In re Gladys R.,
1 Cal3d 855, 464, P2d 127, 1970) and Pennsylvania (Commonwealth v. Durham, 255 PaSuper 539, 1978),
the codified infancy defense was successfully applied in juvenile delinquency proceedings.
But nationwide, criminal charges against young children are relatively rare, and deciding whether to file
criminal charges against children is a difficult decision for prosecutors. There are serious doubts about young
children's capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, assist a lawyer in their defense, or fully
comprehend the permanence of death.
More recently, in Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa), prosecutors have filed a felony aggravated
manslaughter charge against an eight-year-old boy accused of fatally bludgeoning to death a seven-
month-old girl in 2005. According to the affidavit, the boy told detectives that the baby’s crying "made him
mad." He picked up the baby and punched her in the face and then tried to carry her upstairs, but the baby
"fell down the stairs" to the landing. He then followed her and kicked her in the right side until she reached
the first floor. He then grabbed a wooden board from the stairway and clubbed her twice in the head,
before alerting his mother that the baby was “sick.” According to police, the boy told detectives two
conflicting stories before describing how he beat her with the board. He showed police the board, on which
strands of the baby’s hair were found, and police also recovered a blood-splattered T-shirt from the eight-
Under Florida law, a person of any age can be charged in a criminal proceeding. In deciding how to
proceed with the charges, a prosecutor on the case said, "We want to do what's in the best interest of this
young child." The boy's case will be handled in juvenile court, where he will undergo a mental health
evaluation and possibly receive treatment. Depending on the outcome, he might be charged in an adult
How would your students charge this child? What defense would they argue on his behalf in court? Is this
particular case, might the infancy defense be justified? What should be the age limit of the infancy
PROPOSITION 21 AND CHARGING JUVENILES AS ADULTS
Information on California’s Proposition 21 can be used to supplement the textbook’s discussion on
juveniles in the adult court system. Lionel Tate, the “Famous Criminal” of this chapter, is an excellent
example to bring into the discussion as well.
Proposition 21 is legislation enacted to crack down hard on criminal offenders, particularly juvenile
offenders. After a rancorous campaign over its implementation, 62 percent of California voters approved
the measure in 2000. The proposition expanded the state's "three-strikes" laws, eased confidentiality of
some juvenile records, and adding gang-related homicides to the list of crimes eligible for the death
penalty. Among its most controversial provisions, however, is the initiative that allows prosecutors to file
certain serious juvenile cases directly in adult court, where the potential sentences are much harsher than
those in juvenile court, without first getting a judge’s approval. While defendants in juvenile court have to
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be released by age 25, a juvenile tried in adult court can be sentenced to life in prison.
The measure was later struck down by an appeals court in San Diego that found it improperly shifted
sentencing discretion from judges to prosecutors. However, in 2002, the state supreme court upheld the
proposition, saying, "A prosecutor's decision to file charges against a minor in criminal court . . . is well
within the established charging authority." Currently, Proposition 21 is being used to prosecute juveniles
across the state.
Supporters say that by allowing prosecutors to directly try serious juvenile offenders in criminal court,
valuable and scarce time and resources are conserved, as many prosecutors would have held hearings
leading to adult court filings anyway. Furthermore, such harsh penalties, including lowering from 16 to 14
the age that makes certain defendants eligible for adult court, also hold young criminals more accountable
and may in fact have a deterring effect on youths.
Opponents argue that an impartial judge, not overzealous prosecutors, should be involved in the process
of determining how the cases of juvenile offenders should proceed. Opponents are also concerned about
the effects of sending teenagers to prison with adults. Ironically, however, prison authorities have said that
older inmates often have as much to fear from the juveniles as the juveniles have to fear from the adults.
In their immaturity, authorities say, juveniles can act out in violent and aggressive ways and are often
undeterred from testing authority in ways that older inmates no longer consider worth their time. There is
also worry that juveniles might be easily recruited into prison gangs, therefore continuing down the path to
a long criminal career that they otherwise might not have pursued.
How do your students view legislation like Proposition 21? Should violent juvenile offenders be sentenced
in adult court? What offenses are serious enough to justify trial in the adult court system: Murder? Rape?
Drug offenses? Gang-related activities? What?
LIFE TERMS FOR JUVENILES
In People v. Clark (39 CrL 2201 ), decided by the Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District, no error was
found in a trial judge’s decision to transfer to adult court the case of a 14-year-old youth charged with two
murders — a decision that ultimately resulted in a mandatory life sentence. The court argued that contrary to
defense claims, the judge and the attorneys seemed to have been aware of the fact that, because the
defendant was charged with more than one murder, his transfer would expose him to the mandatory life term.
The court went on to find no violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment in
the imposition of the mandatory life sentence. The court reasoned:
It is the death penalty’s qualitative difference from all other sentences, including life imprisonment, that
has led the U.S. Supreme Court to require sentencers to be allowed to consider mitigating factors.
Since this case, the number of life sentences handed down in the United States has substantially increased.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are currently about 9,700 Americans serving such sentences for
crimes committed before the age of 18. Of these, approximately 2,200 are serving sentences without the
possibility of parole, about 350 of whom are younger than age 15. In addition, because of the recent Supreme
Court decision that declared the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional, the dozens of juveniles around
the country who have been waiting on death row now face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that allows juvenile offenders to be sentenced to life
without parole. The sentence is theoretically available in about 12 nations around the world, but it is rarely
implemented. Only Israel (7), South Africa (4), and Tanzania (1) also currently have juveniles serving lifetime
sentences without the possibility of parole.
The New York Times recently published several articles about juveniles sentenced to life in prison. The
articles drew upon information in the Humans Rights Watch report as well as statistical analysis and original
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research conducted by their own staff in 10 prisons across six states. The Times found that juvenile inmates
are serving life sentences in nearly every state (48). Forty two states and the federal government allow
offenders younger than age 18 to be locked up for life. Ten states have no minimum age, and 13 set a
minimum of age 10 to 13. Seven states have more than 100 juvenile offenders serving life sentences without
the possibility of parole, while Louisiana and Virginia send the largest percentages of juvenile offenders to
prison under this sentence. In 2001, juvenile lifers were 95 percent male and 55 percent black, and all but 16
percent were convicted of murder.
And while the Roper decision brought about “a pandemonium of banging, yelling, and whoops of joy among
the 28 men whose lives were spared the decision” on a death row in Texas, the overwhelming majority of
offenders found that the prospect of life in prison presented an even more bleak outlook for them than did the
death sentence. For example, people on death row can be provided with free lawyers to try their cases in
federal court, pro bono lawyers often work hard to free death row inmates but generally do not spend the
same time or energy on lifers, and appeals that examine death row cases get more careful attention than do
the cases of offenders sentenced to life.
Perhaps, in part indicating a discontent with sentencing young offenders to life in prison without parole, the
number of juveniles sentenced in this way for their crime has actually declined since its peak in 1996.
However, this is likely no consolation for the more than 2,200 who remain in prison for crimes committed in
In your students’ opinion, which is worse: a death sentence or life without the possibility of parole? Should
juveniles be allowed to serve life without the possibility of parole? Should all juveniles be given a hearing after
a certain amount of time served to determine on a case-by-case basis whether or not they are fit to ever return
to society? Do students think there will be a movement to abolish the sentence of life without parole for
juveniles, similar to the campaigns against the juvenile death penalty?
Sources: Adam Liptak, “Jailed for Life After Crimes as Teenagers,” New York Times, October 3, 2005, A1;
Adam Liptak, “Serving Life, with No Chance of Redemption,” New York Times, October 5, 2005, A1; The
Death Penalty Information Center (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/); Human Rights Watch, The Rest of Their
Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States (New York: Author, October 2005).
CLASS PROJECT AND DISCUSSION TOPICS
1. A debated issue in juvenile justice in recent years involves the imposition of the death penalty on
juveniles being tried in adult courts. The phenomenon is certain to generate an interesting classroom
discussion. Stanford v. Kentucky (1989), briefly mentioned in the textbook, represented the Supreme
Court’s opinion on the matter until it was overturned in the 2005 case of Roper v. Simmons, discussed in
Some additional background on the topic may be helpful to add to the discussion. An almost universal
prohibition exists on the execution of individuals who were younger than 18 at the time of the crime. Since
2000, only five countries in the world are known to have executed juvenile offenders: China, Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Iran, Pakistan, and the United States. Pakistan and China have since abolished
the juvenile death penalty, although there have been reports of problems in compliance with the law.
At the time of the Roper decision, 72 juveniles were sitting on death row. These 72 condemned juveniles
constituted about 2 percent of the total death row population of 3,487. All of the offenders were male and
had been convicted of murder. More than three-quarters of the offenders were age 17 at the time of their
crimes and two-thirds were nonwhite. Their victims were overwhelmingly adults (81 percent), over-thirds of
whom were white and half were female.
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The juvenile offenders were under death sentences in 12 different states and had been on death row
anywhere from 4 months to 24 years. Texas held the majority of the national total of juvenile offenders (40
Between 1976 and the 2005 Roper decision, 22 juveniles were executed across the United States. The
overwhelming majority of the executions took place in Texas (13), followed by Virginia (3) and Oklahoma
(2), with South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Missouri each executing one juvenile during this period.
The advocates for juveniles on death row argue that they deserve leniency because the criminal law rarely
holds individuals responsible for their actions before they reach the age of majority. They also argue that
immature young offenders are better candidates for rehabilitation than are older, street-seasoned
criminals. In this behalf, the rallying cry for those who oppose the idea of imposing the death penalty on
juveniles is “Do you really want to execute children?”
Those who support the execution of juveniles contend that the crimes involved are ageless in their
brutality. They point to such cases as James Trimble, who was 17 years old when he kidnapped and
raped a 22-year-old woman, beat her with a baseball bat, and then slit her throat. The rallying cry for those
in favor of the death penalty for such offenders like Trimble is “Execution is the only solution for truly evil
(Source: Amnesty International and the Death Penalty Information Center.)
Ask your students how they feel about the execution of juvenile offenders. Do they agree with the Roper
decision? If not, under what circumstances would they permit juvenile executions?
2. The New York Times articles, described above, generated numerous letters to the editor, some of which
were sympathetic to juvenile justice issues and others of which expressed that the scores of juveniles locked
away in prison across the country are a testament to how the “get tough” approach toward juvenile crime is
working. Have your students locate the Times articles to read the full stories, and have them draft their own
letter to the editor expressing their stance on the state of juvenile justice in the United States (they don’t
actually have to submit it to the Times). Alternatively, if there is an important criminal justice issue going on in
your community, have them draft a letter to the local newspaper expressing their opinion or offering a policy
suggestion that would help resolve the issue or improve the justice system in some way. Many local
newspapers are happy to print brief but cogent letters on topics relevant to the community.
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