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The social and historical context in juvenile court Essay

What was the social and historical context in which the juvenile court was created? What has been the fundamental difference between the procedures used in juvenile courts and those employed in criminal (adult) courts?

Juvenile Court, authority charged with the disposition of legal actions involving children.

One hundred years ago, the Illinois legislature enacted the Illinois Juvenile Court Act (1899 Ill. Laws 132 et seq.), creating the first separate juvenile court. The policy debates raging around the country in this centennial year(1899), however, make it uncertain whether the traditional juvenile court will prevail. Early in the 19th century, juveniles were tried along with adults in criminal courts. In common law, children under age 7 were conclusively presumed immune from prosecution because they lacked moral responsibility (the infancy defense). Children between ages 7 and 14 were presumed not to be criminally responsible, and prosecutors had to prove that an individual juvenile was culpable. Youth age 14 and older were deemed as responsible for their criminal acts as adults.

Despite the law’s effort to temper the severity of trying and punishing children as adults, young children were sometimes sentenced to prison and occasionally to death. The first institution expressly for juveniles, the House of Refuge, was founded in New York City in 1824 so that institutionalized delinquents could be kept apart from adult criminals.

Prior to 1900, at least 10 children were executed in the United States for crimes committed before their 14th birthdays. Other children died in adult prisons. Virginia penitentiary records from 1876 reflect that a 10-year-old prisoner died from being scalded accidentally in a tub of boiling coffee. These deaths shocked the public conscience. Accordingly, Americans in the 19th century sought more pervasive reform than the infancy defense to address the distinctive nature of children and youth.

Juvenile Courts were conceived at the turn of the century to end the long-standing practice of trying (and imprisoning) children side by side with adult criminals. There were two reasons for this. There was the commonsense legal theory that children ought not bear the same statutory responsibility as grown-ups because of their immaturity (psychological, emotional and developmental). And there was growing public sentiment that punishing children in the same way as adult criminals was immoral, an opinion fueled by media coverage of harsh and inhumane treatment of children in state penitentiaries — and

occasionally on death row. The principles underlying the practices of the juvenile court and the juvenile justice system were the protection and rehabilitation of offenders. Informality was the rule. Procedures observed in the separate adult criminal system, such as the right to counsel, notice requirements, and other due process guarantees, were not formally available to juveniles. By the mid-19th century other state institutions for juvenile delinquents were established, and their populations soon included not only young criminals but also less serious offenders and dependent children. The movement spread rapidly throughout the U.S. and abroad. These early institutions were often very rigid and punitive.

The original juvenile courts were informal civil tribunals. The accused were no longer called criminals or defendants facing trial and sentence — they were “delinquents” facing “adjudication” and “disposition,” giving rise to an entire system of euphemism that persists to this day. This supposed removal of stigmatizing labels (along with closing hearings to the public) was intended to protect children. But it also permitted the removal of any meaningful scrutiny of the works of the juvenile court, along with most of the constitutional and legal protections commonly enjoyed in adult criminal court. In the new system, children were not entitled to legal representation, nor were prosecutors on hand to represent the interests of the state and public safety.

Usually, a juvenile court judge (many of whom had little or no legal training) would confer with the equivalent of a social worker, then decide how best to deal with a wayward child. In most jurisdictions, there were no transcripts, no formal presentations of evidence, no cross-examination of witnesses, and no right of appeal. The intent of all this was to remove procedural and legal obstacles, so that the court could quickly move in to protect a child in danger. The high court scrapped the informal nature of juvenile justice, one in a series of rulings that ultimately conferred all the same legal rights on juveniles as adults possess (except for the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers, for obvious reasons).

In other words, the unanticipated result of the Supreme Court’s Gault decision was to shift the focus of Juvenile Court from the child to the facts of the crime the child committed. Only after the legal issues are dealt with, after many weeks, months, or sometimes years pass, does the court belatedly turn its attention toward what should be done to help a child — far too late in many cases. The child’s rights are protected, but the child is not. And given the fact that most accused juveniles remain free while their cases slowly pass through the system, society is not protected, either.

The problems inherent in this shift in focus are now coming to a head as youth violence has reached crisis proportions. In recent years, with juveniles increasingly responsible for major and violent crimes, public sentiment in support of a separate justice system for children has been waning, replaced by frustration at the system’s inability to quickly and resolutely deal with out-of-control delinquents. This frustration has led many jurisdictions to shift more resources into monitoring and incarcerating the most serious juvenile offenders for longer periods of time.

This has had a paradoxical effect: Fewer resources are left to deal with minor, younger offenders — those youths most amenable to rehabilitation, and the ones juvenile court was originally designed to help. Instead, these kids on the cusp are largely ignored — until they commit more serious offenses. Only then, when they are hardened offenders unlikely to reform, do we throw time and money at them — too late for them, too late for their crime victims.

State after state has passed laws allowing many juveniles to be tried and sentenced as adults. Championed as a reform, this practice is actually a throwback to the Nineteenth Century, when a criminal was a criminal, no matter his or her age.

In 1980, every state kept its youth criminals in juvenile court.

Within fifteen years, only the state of Hawaii still tried all children under the age of sixteen as juveniles.

Today, the future of the juvenile court is in question. This uniquely American institution has been duplicated throughout the world as the best model for the humane and innovative handling of juveniles who commit crimes.

The juvenile court system’s contributions to the just handling of children and families in the legal system should be celebrated, and the court should be provided with the support and resources that it needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Juvenile courts have been able to reduce juvenile crime, even among serious and violent offenders. Recidivism rates have proven to be much higher among juveniles tried in criminal courts and placed in adult prisons than among those retained in juvenile court. Juveniles transferred to criminal court are more likely to commit new offenses, commit them sooner, and at a higher rate.

Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, the age for criminal culpability is set at 18 years. Juvenile law is mainly governed by state law and most states have enacted a juvenile code. The main goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Juveniles can be transferred into adult court if the juvenile court waives or relinquishes its jurisdiction.

State statutes creating juvenile courts and providing methods for dealing with juvenile delinquencey have generally been upheld by courts as an acceptable extension of state police power to ensure the safety and welfare of children. The doctrine of parens patriae authorizes the state to legislate for the protection, care, custody, and maintenance of children within its jurisdiction.

The federal role in the field has largely been that of funder and standard setter. Congress passed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act in 1968. This was later revised in 1972, and renamed the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act. The stated purpose of the act is to assist states and local communities in providing community based preventative services to youths in danger of becoming delinquent, to help train individuals in occupations providing such services, and to provide technical assistance in the field.

The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act defines juvenile delinquency (any act that is othewise a crime, but is committed by someone under 18 years of age) and sets forth rules by which state laws must comply with regard to juvenile court procedures and punishments.

Procedures In Juvenile court:

Juvenile offender cases usually come to the court’s attention through police apprehension of a delinquent. At other times, a school official, parent, or guardian may refer a problem to the court. The court intake officer then evaluates the case and decides whether it should be ended without action, whether the child should be referred to a counseling agency, or whether the case should be heard in juvenile court. Depending on the nature of the charge, detention may be necessary.

If the case is to be heard formally, a petition is filed in juvenile court alleging the statutes violated by the child. In most juvenile cases, the child admits to the allegations and a treatment program is ordered. When the child denies the allegations, however, an adjudicatory hearing, much like a criminal trial, is held. At this hearing, the child is represented by a lawyer and has many other defendant’s rights. Since a minor will rarely have a jury trial, the judge hears the evidence and decides if the offenses were committed by the child.

If the allegations are not proven, the case is dismissed; if they are proven, the judge may rule that the child is a delinquent or a status offender. A second hearing is then held to decide on the appropriate disposition or sentence. The most common disposition is probation, under which the child must abide by certain rules of behavior and report to the probation officer regularly. The court may order serious offenders committed to a juvenile institution.

In certain instances, alternatives to juvenile court action may be desirable. Alternatives for minor offenses include informal assistance from school counselors, mental health clinics, and a variety of youth-service agencies. Court intake often results in referral to such agencies. At the other extreme, the alternative for serious crimes and dangerous behavior is trial in criminal court, where children who murder, rape, or commit other such acts can be sentenced to prison.

criminal law:

Criminal law involves prosecution by the government of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime. Civil cases, on the other hand, involve individuals and organizations seeking to resolve legal disputes. In a criminal case the state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit, while in a civil case the victim brings the suit. Persons convicted of a crime may be incarcerated, fined, or both. However, persons found liable in a civil case may only have to give up property or pay money, but are not incarcerated.

A “crime” is any act or omission (of an act) in violation of a public law forbidding or commanding it. Though there are some common law crimes, most crimes in the United States are established by local, state, and federal governments. Criminal laws vary significantly from state to state. There is, however, a Model Penal Code (MPC) which serves as a good starting place to gain an understanding of the basic structure of criminal liability.

Crimes include both felonies (more serious offenses — like murder or rape) and misdemeanors (less serious offenses — like petty theft or jaywalking). Felonies are usually crimes punishable by imprisonment of a year or more, while misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than a year. However, no act is a crime if it has not been previously established as such either by statute or common law. Recently, the list of Federal crimes, dealing with activities extending beyond state boundaries or having special impact on federal operations, has grown. See Title 18.

All statutes describing criminal behavior can be broken down into their various elements. Most crimes (with the exception of strict-liability crimes) consist of two elements: an act, or “actus reus,” and a mental state, or “mens rea.” Prosecutors have to prove each and every element of the crime to yield a conviction. Furthermore, the prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge “beyond a reasonable doubt” of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged. In civil cases, the plaintiff needs to show a defendant is liable only by a “preponderance of the evidence,” or more than 50%.

criminal procedure: Criminal procedure is composed of the rules governing the series of proceedings through which the substantive criminal law is enforced. In the United States, most crimes are defined by local and state government, though the federal government has adopted its own criminal code to deal with activities extending beyond state boundaries or having special impact on federal operations.

The procedure for criminal trials in federal courts is outlined in Title 18. States also have statutes that set out the framework for criminal procedure, subject to important constitutional limits. For example, the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights provides basic protections including the right to an attorney, the right to not testify, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to a jury trial, among others. State constitutions may increase, but not take away from the federal protections.

The American criminal system is an adversarial and accusatorial model. Criminal procedure must balance the defendant’s rights and the state’s interests in a speedy and efficient trial with the desire for justice. Therefore, the rules of criminal procedure are designed to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected.

The rules of criminal procedure are different from those of civil procedure, because the two areas (criminal and civil) have different objectives and results. In criminal cases, the state brings the suit and must show guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while in civil cases the plaintiff brings the suit and must only show the defendant is liable by a preponderance of the evidence.

Clearly, both the adult criminal and juvenile justice systems have undergone vast changes over the last 100 years. However, one thing that has remained constant is the desire of courts, correctional professionals, and policymakers to reduce recidivism and enhance society safety. To achieve those goals and other important objectives, implementation of a variety of sentencing, corrections, and diversion practices resulted. Currently, officials are looking at new ways to deal with crime or are modifying existing practices to achieve their goals.

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