Juvenile and Adult Courts: A Comparative Analysis

For many years, people have believed that the juvenile justice system was meant to serve as a way to protect the community. Juveniles who commit crimes are different from adults because many do not understand the complexity of the crime committed. In order to respond to these differences, many states have established a way to treat these adolescents through juvenile courts and youth-based recovery systems. While most states recognize that juveniles who commit crimes should not be treated as an adult there are still some that are skeptic that the juvenile justice system works.

The juvenile justice system began in 1899, in Chicago, Illinois where the nation’s first juvenile system was established. In the beginning the system was informal and often times it was nothing more than a conversation between the juvenile and a judge (Juvenile Law Center, 2013). Over the years the system has changed significantly where juvenile courts have created a probation system which provided a different method to provide juveniles with guidance, supervision, and education.

By the 1920s all but two states had followed the suit but it was not until the 1960s where the juvenile justice system was given several of the same legal rights as the adult court. There are many differences between the juvenile and adult criminal systems but they also share their similarities. While their differences vary depending on the state, the similarities can be said to be our natural born rights. One of the main similarities is the right to an attorney (LaMance, 2013). The defendant has the choice of either choosing a public defender to represent them or to hire a paid attorney.

Both courts not only give their defendants the right to cross-examine witnesses but also the privilege against self-incrimination. The prosecution must also provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before either of the two can be charged and convicted (LaMance, 2013). The two also share the right to receive a transcript of the proceedings and the rights to have an appellate court review the lower court’s decision. One of the main differences is the overall goal for both courts.

While the goal for the adult court is to punish and convict, the juvenile justice system prefers the method of rehabilitation and reformation, thus giving the juvenile a chance to become a productive citizen (LaMance, 2013). Unlike adults, juveniles do not have the right to a public trial and an adjudication hearing is required in order for the judge to determine if the minor is a delinquent. If considered a delinquent, the court then decides which steps should be taken where the best interest for the juvenile is taken into consideration.

The juvenile court is still more informal than that of the adult court (LaMance, 2013). An example of their informality is the rule for admissibility of evidence which is much more lenient in the juvenile court. Lastly juveniles are usually not prosecuted for the delinquent acts that he or she has committed. However depending on the severity of the crime and state laws, juveniles can be transferred and tried in the adult system (LaMance, 2013). The adjudication process in which juveniles are transferred to the adult system varies by state.

While some states enable the transfer of certain juveniles with a waiver, depending on their age and offense criteria, other states consider the juvenile to be an “automatic adult” (OJJDP National Report Series: Juvenile in Court, 2013). Although all states allow juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court there are a few circumstances that follow. All states except for Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York provide a judicial waiver where the juvenile court judge has the authority to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and transfer cases to the adult court.

Other states have a concurrent jurisdiction where the original jurisdiction for certain cases is shared by both juvenile and adult courts. The discretion under the concurrent jurisdiction is left to the prosecutor. Statutory exclusion is the legislative method, which mandates juvenile prosecution in adult court. Youths charged with certain crimes can be placed in the adult system automatically, thus removing any kind of decision making process from judges or prosecutors (OJJDP National Report Series: Juvenile in Court, 2013).

In recent years states have significantly expanded legislation for allowing the use of judicial waivers. This trend has increased the number of juveniles incarcerated throughout the United States and has expectations to rise. Having a juvenile treated as an adult gives them the possibility of life or death sentences and incarceration in state of federal prisons which can have a tremendous impact on the life and future of a juvenile (Find Law, 2013).

Although it may be served as a deterrent to some, sending juveniles directly to the adult criminal court gives the juvenile the impression that there is no room for rehabilitation or second chances, thus paving the way for a life of crime for others. Since the late 1970s, critics of the juvenile justice courts have pursued to abolish this system with the assumption that this system has failed its purpose, to rehabilitate juveniles (LaMance, 2013). Abolishing juvenile courts holds ramifications for not only juveniles but also the community.

Eliminating these courts would mean that all juveniles, no matter the age or crime, would be treated as an adult. Many jobs and careers would be lost for those who have committed their lives to making a difference in the juvenile justice system, jobs such as social workers, juvenile detention guards, and juvenile probation officers. An argument can be made to abolish this system but the idea that young offenders whom are not mentally competent to understand their behavior still stands (LaMance, 2013).

Therefore juveniles should be handled in a different court system. The juvenile justice system has grown and changed substantially since 1899. The justifications of the juvenile court system are that youth are developmentally different from adults and should not be treated the same. Having a system that focuses on the needs of children, who are maturing into adulthood, not only gives the community hope but also gives the juvenile a real chance to rehabilitation and recovery.