Until 1967, juveniles had only limited protection under the law when it came to their rights in court. However, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided In re Gault, it held that juveniles facing delinquency proceedings are entitled to their Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, including for indigent defendants, under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. 387 U.S. 1 (1967). The court’s decision in Gault also extended to youth the Fifth Amendment rights to notice of the charges, to remain silent, and against self-incrimination, and the Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses.
The Supreme Court continued to expand the rights of juveniles in a number of cases during the following decade. In 1970, the Court held that the state is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in juvenile delinquency proceedings, rather than by the preponderance of the evidence standard previously used. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970). In another case, the Court held that delinquency proceeding constitutes being placed “in jeopardy,” thus prohibiting the future prosecution for the same crime, pursuant to the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. Breed v. Jones, 421 U.S. 519 (1975). However, Court’s trend of expanding juvenile’s rights was not absolute; in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, for example, the Supreme Court determined that juveniles would not be required to be tried by a jury and that cases in the juvenile justice system would be decided by judges. 403 U.S. 528 (1971).
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967)
This landmark 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that juveniles accused of delinquency must be afford many of the same due process rights afforded to adults via the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. These rights include the right to timely notification of charges, the right to confront witnesses, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to legal counsel. Read the full opinion.
In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)
In this U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Court held that juvenile defendants cannot be adjudicated delinquent unless the state proves his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—as required by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments—rather than by the preponderance of the evidence standard. Read the full opinion.
McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971)
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendants in juvenile criminal proceedings are not entitled to the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. While states are not required to allow jury trials in juvenile delinquency cases, states may employ such an option. Read the full opinion.
Breed v. Jones, 421 U.S. 519 (1975)
In this unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that when a juvenile is adjudicated in a delinquency proceeding, he or she is put “in jeopardy,” thus barring prosecution for the same criminal offense on the basis that doing such would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Read the full opinion.
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
In this 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for crimes committed while the convicted was under the age of 18. In Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), the Court had previously upheld death sentences for offenders above or at the age of 16; in effect, the decision in Roper v. Simmons overturned state statutes in 25 states. Read the full opinion.
“Developmental Incompetence, Due Process, and Juvenile Justice Policy” by Elizabeth S. Scott and Thomas Grisso, North Carolina Law Review (2005)
In this article, the authors discuss the legal, constitutional, and institutional challenges of developmental incompetence of juvenile offenders, especially in relation to the Due Process Clause. Read the full article.
“‘I Ain’t Takin’ No Plea’: The Challenges in Counseling Young People Facing Serious Time” by Abbe Smith, Rutgers Law Review (2007)
Abstract: Criminal defendants daily entrust their liberty to the skill of their lawyers. The consequences of the lawyer’s decisions fall squarely upon the defendant. There is nothing untoward in this circumstance. To the contrary, the lawyer as the defendant’s representative is at the core of our adversary process. As practicing lawyers know, interviewing and counseling are at the heart of legal representation. This is what lawyers do, even trial lawyers: we talk with and advise clients. As criminal lawyers know, the decision whether to go to trial is “the most important single decision” a client faces, and requires wise counsel. When the decision is a close call—there is no great cost to going to trial, no clear benefit to accepting a plea, and no serious downside either way—it is easy to accede to a client’s wishes. But when there is no question that going to trial will be ruinous, and the client does not understand this, it is incumbent upon the lawyer to get through to the client. This is especially true when the client is developmentally immature and emotionally traumatized. Read the full article.
“A Critical Examination of ‘Being Black’ in the Juvenile Justice System” by Jennifer H. Peck and Wesley G. Jennings, Law and Human Behavior (2016)
Abstract: The current study examined the role of race in juvenile court outcomes across 3 decision-making stages. This analysis was conducted with a random sample of all delinquent referrals in a Northeast state from January 2000 through December 2010 (N = 68,188). In addition to traditional logistic regression analysis, a propensity score matching (PSM) approach was utilized to create comparable samples of Black and White youth and provide a more rigorous methodological test of the relationship between race and juvenile court processing. Results indicated that even after the use of PSM techniques, race was still found to influence the likelihood of intake (OR = 1.54; 95% C.I. = 1.48–1.62, p < .001), adjudication (OR = 0.80; 95% C.I. = 0.76–0.84, p < .001), and disposition (OR = 1.64; 95% C.I. = 1.54–1.76, p < .001) outcomes. The findings show that Black youth received disadvantaged court outcomes at 2 of the 3 stages, even after balancing both groups on a number of confounders. Black youth were treated harsher at intake and judicial disposition, but received leniency at adjudication compared with similarly situated Whites. These relationships were the most evident at the stage of judicial disposition. The findings impact both researchers’ and policymakers’ strategies to more fully understand the complex relationship between race and social control. They also reaffirm the noticeable role that selection bias can play in the research surrounding race differences in juvenile court outcomes, and highlight the importance of utilizing a more stringent statistical model to control for selection bias. Purchase access to the full article.
“Juvenile Justice Sentencing: Do Gender and Child Welfare Involvement Matter?” by Christina C. Tam, Laura S. Abrams, Bridget Freisthler, and Joseph P. Ryan, Children and Youth Services Review (2016)
Abstract: For young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, how they are sentenced following an arrest may profoundly influence the course of their development and adjustment as adults. Much of the research to date has focused on racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice sentencing policies and practices, and less is known about sentencing disparities based on other youth characteristics. Using Los Angeles County administrative data, this study investigates the effects of gender and child welfare statuses on sentencing for young people who are arrested for the first time (N = 5061). Results indicate that both young men and women are sentenced more harshly dependent upon the disposition, such that girls were more likely to be sentenced to group homes compared to boys, but boys were more likely to be sentenced to correctional facilities compared to girls. Child welfare-involved youth with a recent placement history are prone to more punitive sentences compared to their non-child welfare counterparts. Further, child welfare young women were not more likely to be sentenced to a harsher disposition compared to child welfare young men or non-child welfare young women. Implications for practice and future research are discussed. Read the full article.