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Major Court Cases that Changed the Legal Norms within the Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system was created in the late 1800s and was designated to punish youth offenders (History of America’s juvenile justice system, 2008). The early juvenile court system had distinctive procedures, namely: a)Diminished criminal responsibility of juveniles, explained as lack of their physical and mental maturity, which brought presumption of them and belief that they were  not capable of committing a crime; b) A child welfare approach, which was based on assertion of needs by analyzing the social background of the offender, rather than determining guilt or innocence; c) Informal or family-like procedures, which discarded the rules of criminal procedure and brought about the rehabilitative ideal, which main purpose was to exchange trials for “hearings” (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). All those procedure were based on the parens patriae doctrine, which described government’s duty to be concerned with the welfare of the certain social groups, mainly orphan children (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

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However, five major court cases in the history of the juvenile justice system diminished the rehabilitative ideal and parens patriae of the traditional juvenile court.

Kent v. United States (1966). Moris Kent, age 16, while being on probation, was charged with robbery and rape (History of America’s JJS, 2008). The juvenile court judge gave the case a “judicial waiver”, after making full investigation of it and rejecting his attorney’s request of a hearing on the issue of jurisdiction (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). After Kent was found guilty in criminal court on six counts and sentenced to 30 to 90 years in prison, his attorney filled the official wit to justify offender’s confinement (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). Eventually after rejection of appeal, Kent’ attorney appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and it ruled hearing on the motion of waiver with attorney’s representation and access to all records involved (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). The denial of the basic procedure rights and absence of the full investigation was confirmed by the Supreme Court (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

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In re Gault (1967). Gerald Gault, age 15, allegedly made the “obscene” remarks to an adult neighbor and after adjudication hearing was committed to a training school (History of America’s JJS, 2008).Eventually U.S. Supreme Court heard the issue on request of justification of the youth’s confinement by his attorney and stated that the following rights should be duly respected, namely: the right to notice of the charges, the right to counsel, the right to question witnesses and the right to protect against self-incrimination (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). The court’s rejection of the parens patriae doctrine reinforced the conclusion of the violation of the fourteenth amendment due the process (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

In re Winhip (1970). Samuel Winship, age 12, was commited to a training school, after allegedly stealing $ 112 from the women’s purse in the store (History of America’s JJS, 2008). Winhip was determined as a “delinquent youth” after the court ruled on the “preponderance evidence” (burden of proof) rather than adult criminal law standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011). After studying the case the U.S. Supreme Court rejected lower courts arguments and obliged the juvenile courts by operating on the same standards as adult courts as essential of due process and fair treatment (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

McKevier v. Pennsylvania (1971). Joseph McKevier, age 16, together with 20 to 30 youths allegedly stolen 25 cents from 3 youths and subsequently was placed on probation after jury trial was denied by the court at adjudicatory hearing (History of America’s JJS, 2008). The U.S. Supreme Court traced the breach of the Fourteenth Amendment and procedural requirements in the juvenile’s court fact-finding stage (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

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Breed v. Jones (1975). Gary Jones, age 17, was charged with the robbery and faced charges of two other robberies, after his case was given a jurisdiction waiver to the criminal court (History of America’s JJS, 2008). The U.S. Supreme Court, after juvenile’s court rejection of legal petition, confirmed double violation of the Fifth Amendment clause  and specified that the waiver cannot occur after jeopardy was attached to the case (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

In addition, these cases shaped the procedures of the juvenile courts to become more like criminal courts. Nonetheless, the due process revolution acknowledged the need for a separate system and a distinctive approach to juvenile crime (Burfiend & Bartusch, 2011).

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