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Juvenile Justice System-How far it has come!!

The Cases

There has always been juveniles committing crimes and there has always been juvenile delinquency. In the last hundred years juvenile cases and the constant development of our society has made life alternating changes to juvenile’s lives and there cases. Juveniles began being tried as adults, to not having any constitutional rights.They began gaining rights, it was ruled unconstitutional to issue capital punishment on a juvenile and finally determined that we need to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment when dealing in juvenile cases. There were multiple cases that altered how we favor in juvenile courts, but there were 7 main cases that changed everything, I like to call them the lucky 7.

The lucky 7 cases begin in 1966 and the last occurred in 2005. I am sure there will be more to come. Juvenile law and criminal law are changing every day. These cases took place all over the United States and little did people know the impact that each one would have. The Lucky 7 include, Kent v. United States (1966), In re Gault (1967), In re Winship (1970), Breed v. Jones (1975), Fare v. Michael (1979), Woods v. Clusen (1986), and the most recent was Roper v. Simmons (2005). I will explain these cases in better detail, explain why they were ruled the way they were and lastly state how I feel about were our system is today.

The Rights (1960-1990)

Kent v United States, In re Gault and In re Winship all involved the development of juvenile’s rights and the rest of the cases addressed specific right issues. Juveniles had no rights until the mid 1960’s, and even then, gaining rights was a very slow process, changes to the right of juvenile are still changing and they are still gaining ground on constitutional rights.

Although juveniles have had a major jump in their amount of rights they still aren’t as privileged as adults, and there is still the fact of Parens Patriae, which out rules everything. From 1960 to 1990 juveniles were granted the right to cross examine witnesses, the right to confront accusers, right to minimal due process, right to notice of charges, a right to assistance of counsel, right against self incrimination, and the right to hearing before a transfer to criminal court. Receiving all these rights in these thirty years basically allowed for juveniles to have about half the amount of rights that adults have today.

This makes it very difficult to answer the question of why an 18 year old has all these rights and a 17 year old does not. Well the truth is if you can get tried as a juvenile in a case, you want to keep it that way. Even though you don’t have all the rights an adult may have, if you are tried as a juvenile in juvenile courts then you won’t have a record of your actions once you have been released, were in criminal courts you will have that record. The first juvenile case that really made a splash in juvenile courts was Kent v United States.

Kent v. United States (1966)

Kent v United States was considered the first major juvenile rights case to preface juvenile court reforms. This was the case that established the universal precedents that a juvenile case would require a waiver before the juvenile could be transferred to the criminal courts or tried as an adult.

In the District of Columbia in 1959, Morris A. Kent Jr. was a 14 year old boy and was apprehended for several housebreaking's and purse snatches. Mr. Kent was then placed on probation and placed into the custody of his mother. In 1961, an intruder entered a woman’s apartment where she was raped and her wallet was stolen. The fingerprints found at the scene were cross referenced with the ones that were taken from Mr. Kent when apprehended in the 1959 burglaries, the prints matched. Kent was now 16, he was apprehended and questioned for 7 hours by police, admitting to these crimes, and volunteering other information about housebreaking's and crimes.

The following day Mr. Kent’s mother obtained counsel for Kent and learned that he might be waived to criminal courts. Mr. Kent was held in a holding facility for one week, there were no arraignment and no determination by judicial officer for the probable cause of Mr. Kent’s arrest during this time. The juvenile judge failed to rule on any of Kent’s attorney’s motions. He was then sentenced 30 to 90 years in prison and any time spent in a mental institution would count as time served.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 reversing Mr. Kent’s conviction, showing a subtle change in juvenile courts. They believed that Mr. Kent’s due process and right to effective assistance of counsel were violated when denied a formal hearing. The Supreme Court ruled that an appointment of counsel without affording an opportunity for a hearing on a “critically important” decision is tantamount to a denial of counsel. Basically the Supreme Court was stating that there has to be a proper hearing when transferring a juvenile’s case to the criminal level.

In re Gault (1967)

In Gila County in Arizona of 1967 the case of In re Gault may have been the most noteworthy and rights alternating case for juveniles. In this one case there was 4 major rights granted to juveniles. The right to notice of charges, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses and the right to invoke the privilege against self incrimination. The two additional rights that Gault requested that were not granted were the right to a transcript of the proceedings and the right to an appellate review.

In short, Gerald Francis Gault was a 15 year old boy that had a prior record, Gault and a friend had called a neighbor and spoke obscenities to her. When Gault was accused by the neighbor Mrs. Cook he was apprehended and held at the children’s Detention Home, Gault’s parents didn’t learn of this tell much later in the evening.

On June 9th a hearing was held were Mrs. Cook was not present, no one was sworn in, no transcripts were kept, and there was no memorandum of the substance of the proceedings was prepared. The testimony in the hearing consisted of allegations of Gault’s behavior and prior record of an accessory to theft. He was with a friend that stole a wallet from a lady. The juvenile judge ruled that Gault committed lewd phone calls, stating that he is a juvenile delinquent of Arizona and that he be held in the Arizona State Industrial School for the remainder of his minority. A 6 year sentence in the maximum security for juvenile’s in the state. The same offense for an adult is a 50 dollar fine or 60 days in jail, and that’s the maximum.

Once all of Gault’s appeals were exhausted at the state level, the case was transferred to the Supreme Courts. They were appalled when they heard how Gault was handled by the juvenile court system. They ruled in Gault’s favor by a 7-2 vote.

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In re Winship (1970)

The case of In re Winship was a much less complex case. This case resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that “Beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that was originally used in criminal court was to be applied to all juvenile cases from the point forward.

Samuel Winship was 12 years old and was charged for larceny. The New York Family Circuit Court Act a juvenile delinquent is defined as a child over 7 and fewer than 16 that commit an act that would be determine a crime for an adult. The juvenile judge mentioned that there was no evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt, but in New York the law states any determination of the juvenile committing a crime. Basically Winship was charged because he could have committed the crime of larceny. The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that there had to be beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile committed the crime.

Breed v. Jones (1975)

In the Breed v Jones, it was determined that Breed was charged with double jeopardy. In this case the right of double jeopardy was given to juveniles. Breed was charged with armed robbery at the age of 17. The case was then heard at the Juvenile level and it was determined that Breed was guilty. The case then was transferred to the criminal courts and was tried their as well, where he was found guilty.

The Supreme Court received word of the case and heard the case. The Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile cannot be tried at the juvenile system and tried at the criminal record. The Supreme Court ruling prohibited double jeopardy. If a case is tried at the juvenile level, then it stays at that level, if it needs to go to the criminal level then it can’t be tried at the juvenile level.

Fare v. Michael (1979)

Fare v. Michael's in 1979 help regulate juveniles rights, now that they had rights to regulate. In this case Michael was a youth on probation and was charged for murder.

While Michael's was in custody and being questioned he had requested for his probation officer to be present for the questioning. His request was denied. The detective said that a probation officer was not a lawyer and Michael had already denied his right to counsel. Michael continued to answer police questions and gave them incriminating evidence. Unfortunately the Supreme Court ruled that Michaels had made an intelligent decision to waive his rights.

Although a disposition was imposed and eventually an appeal was filed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals developed a nine point system to determine if a juvenile is capable to understand the severity of waiving there rights. The 9 point system is (1) Age, (2) Education, (3) Knowledge of the substance of the charge, and the nature of the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, (4) Whether the accused is allowed contact with parents, guardians, attorney, or other interested adults,(5)Whether the interrogation occurred before or after indictment, (6) Methods used in interrogation, (7) Length of Interrogation, (8) whether the accused refused to voluntarily give statements on prior occasions, and (9) whether the accused had repudiated an extra-judicial statement at a later date.

The fact that the 9-point system was developed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is important because it had no binding at the federal level and only the courts in that circuit had to follow their ruling.

Woods v. Clausen (1986)

The Seventh Circuit Court ruled in Woods v Clausen that a 16.5 year old boy’s confession was not admissible in court due to the fact that he was yanked from his home at 7:30 a.m., handcuffed, stripped and forced to wear institutionalized clothing, shown photos of the crime scene and intimidated. They had basically forced the juvenile to confess to anything they wanted him to. It was a confession that was tampered with, so to speak.

The Death penalty

Roper v. Simmons (2005)

In March of 2005 the Supreme Court revisited the topic of putting juveniles to death. The ruling in this case has changed juvenile cases forever some might say. The Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional and barbaric to execute juveniles. This was something new for in three previous cases they had ruled the other way.

In Fenton, Missouri, Christopher Simmons, 17, told two of his friends that he wanted to murder a woman and that they could get away with it because they were minors. At 2:00 A.M. Simmons and Charles Benjamin arrived at the home of a Shirley Crook, where they robbed her and assaulted her. Simmons ducted tape her eyes, mouth and bound her feet and hands. They took her to a railroad trestle spanning over the Meramec River. They then tied her feet and hands with wire, and then duct taped her whole head and tossed her in the river. Simmons later bragged to friends that he had killed a girl and he said “because the bitch saw my face”. The body was found and detectives were able to link Simmons to the murder.

Simmons was charged with murder and sentenced to death. Simmons appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then ruled it to be unconstitutional to sentence the death penalty on juveniles.

I believe that Juveniles have the right amount of rights and that if things continue to develop, then there will be no difference from adults and juveniles, forcing them to always be tried as adults. If they have all the same rights then they should get the same punishment. It is also hard to argue the fact that a child doesn’t mature much from one year to the next year. If a 17 year old can be tried as an adult then why can’t a 16 year old. The biggest problem with the juvenile justice system is the inconsistency between cases, for instance the last case I mention Roper v. Simmons, had a different ruling then Stanford v Kentucky and Wilkins v Missouri were the juveniles were executed in both those cases. There is also the issue of how to punish juveniles, do you make sure they feel the severity of their crimes, do you punish them to the full extent or do you rehabilitate them. These are all things that are going to change over time and only time will tell what happens to the juvenile justice system and the route we shall go.


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