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).
What Leads To Juvenile False Confessions?
Psychologist Lindsay C. Malloy has devoted her career to improving the treatment of children in the legal system, including the development of better interrogation methods and interviewing techniques. As people across the United States express outrage over the interrogation methods used to question Steven Avery’s intellectually disabled nephew Brendan Dassey in the the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer,” Malloy reminds readers not to forget the countless numbers of children who face interrogations every day. Dassey, who was 16 years-old at the time, was convicted as an accomplice in the murder.
Lindsay C. Malloy is a developmental psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Children and Families at FIU. She has devoted her career to improving the treatment of youth in the legal system, including the development of better interrogation methods and investigative interviewing techniques. Dr. Malloy’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Department of Health and Human Services. She was granted early-career awards from the American Psychological Association for her contributions to science and policy concerning children, families, and the law.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx.
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.
I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Looking to the Objective Science in Evaluating Juveniles’ (In)competency
Tina M. Robinson, I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Looking to the Objective Science in Evaluating Juveniles’ (In)competency, 49 Sw. L. Rev. 144 (2020).
Abstract: Tommy, a nine-year-old boy with no prior juvenile court involvement, is charged with a crime serious enough in his state to be transferred automatically to adult court. At the recommendation of a medical professional team, Tommy was deemed incompetent, and the court ordered him to an outpatient psychiatric facility to “restore” his competency. After eight one-hour sessions, Tommy learned to repeat his charges, appeared to understand their meaning, learned each of the various court personnels’ roles, described evidence that potentially could be presented in his case, and repeated potential consequences of being found guilty. Nonetheless, there was something lacking in Tommy’s responses, which became evident during the last session. First, in answer to what his job in court was, Tommy stated, “To do nothing . . . no, my job is to sit there and . . . whatever the witness says I can tell my lawyer, and whatever the judge asks me I don’t have to answer it.” When asked whether there was anything else that may help his case, he answered “no.” The evaluator then asked Tommy whether he thought he should share with his lawyer specific facts that may help his case. Tommy’s answer was “No, it wouldn’t be good for me to tell my lawyer, because I wouldn’t want people to know I’m scared of things . . . and [my friends] will make fun of me.” It was evident that while Tommy could regurgitate factual understandings, rational reasoning was not present. Yet some states, based on their statutes, would still deem Tommy competent.
Kent Revisted: Aligning Judicial Waiver Criteria with More Than Fifty Years of Social Science Research
Amanda NeMoyer, Kent Revisited: Aligning Judicial Waiver Criteria with More Than Fifty Years of Social Science Research, 42 L. Rev. 441 (2018).
Abstract: Although some form of transfer–allowing certain youths’ cases to be tried in criminal court rather than in juvenile court–has existed since the early years of separated juvenile systems, the Supreme Court did not establish mandatory procedural protections for youth facing a transfer decision until 1966. In Kent v. United States, the Court held that judicial waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction decisions is “critically important,” and, therefore, youth facing such transfer determinations must receive an adversarial hearing, effective assistance of counsel, and a statement of reasons for the judge’s final decision. The Court declined to prescribe substantive considerations for juvenile court judges to consider when making waiver decisions; however, it did include, as an appendix to the decision, a list of eight factors in use by the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia at the time of Morris Kent’s transfer decision. In the years following the Kent decision, many states adopted some or all of these criteria, often referred to as the “Kent factors,” as part of their judicial waiver statutes. However, given Kent‘s recent 50-year anniversary, these criteria should be re-evaluated in light of more than 50 years’ worth of social science research–often cited and endorsed by the Supreme Court– examining adolescents, their capabilities as defendants in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and their relevant differences from adults.
Competence and Culpability: Delinquents in Juvenile Courts, Youths in Criminal Courts
Barry C. Feld, Competence and Culpability: Delinquents in Juvenile Courts, Youths in Criminal Courts, 102 Minn. L. Rev 473 (2017).
Abstract: IME policy. How should the legal system respond when the kid is a criminal and the criminal is a kid? Since juvenile courts’ creation more than a century ago, they have evolved through four periods: the Progressive Era (1899–1960s), the Due Process Era
(1960s–’70s), the Get-Tough Era (1980s–’90s), and the contemporary Children Are Different Era (2005–Present). In each period, juvenile justice policies have reflected different views about children and crime control and appropriate ways to address youths’ misconduct. With the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing again that children are not miniature adults, we have an opportunity to enact policies for a more just and effective justice system for youth.
“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. 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.