Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 16: Juvenile Justice

Chapter Overviews

In the United States, juveniles who are in trouble with the law are treated differently from adults.

History and Overview of Juvenile Courts  Reformers in the mid-1800s believed that parents' failure to teach their children proper values and respect for authority led to juvenile delinquency. Therefore, the reformers proposed a separate juvenile court system to assume parents' responsibility and discipline juvenile offenders. This separate court sought to rehabilitate, or help juveniles make better decisions, rather than punish. Today, juvenile courts generally handle three groups of juveniles—delinquent offenders, or youths who have committed acts that would be crimes if adults had committed them; status offenders, or youths who have committed acts that would not be crimes if committed by adults; and neglected and abused children.

Almost all states set age limits to determine whether a person accused of a crime will be handled in an adult or juvenile court. In most states, young people are considered juveniles if under the age of 18. However, some states set the age limit at 16 or 17. In most states, a juvenile charged with a serious felony can be tried as an adult.

Status Offenses  Juveniles who are considered status offenders are generally charged with being "beyond control." Their offenses may include repeatedly running away or skipping school, being habitually disobedient, or problems with drugs and alcohol.

Juvenile Justice Today  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles charged with delinquent acts are entitled to many of the same rights as adults charged with a crime. This includes the right to be notified of the charges against them, the right to an attorney, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the right to remain silent. Juveniles, like adults, must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, not all of the procedures used in an adult court are appropriate for juvenile courts. The most important issue in juvenile justice involves the question of when, if ever, juvenile offenders should be prosecuted in adult court.

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