To Transfer or Not: A Juvenile Justice versus Adult Criminal Court Debate

To Transfer or Not: A Juvenile Justice versus Adult Criminal Court Debate

            As one of the fields of the criminal justice system, the significance of the juvenile justice has gained an undeniable ground. Based from an objective to clearly define and eventually differentiate the legal handling of adolescents committing crimes, juvenile justice is definitely the appropriate structure to deal with the matter. Most importantly, the ultimate aim of rehabilitating or treating rather than punishing a young offender is supposed to serve the very purpose of carrying out a fair, humane and corrective justice system for the juveniles.

            As time goes by, however, and as the system has supposedly developed, so is the emergence of a reality that juvenile system is subjected with flaws as regard its effectiveness and adherence to the innate rights of the young lawbreakers. This dilemma has resulted to the premise of handling juvenile crimes according to the nature and framework of adult criminal court hence the prospect of subjecting a juvenile offender to a trial similar to the standard structure of adult criminal court. Such idea led to a heated and still unsettled debate having different arguments which are in favor or against the transfer. Clearly, the underlying principle behind the dispute is the fundamental purpose that despite their wrongdoing, it is still essential to protect the welfare of the juvenile offenders and this can be achieved by adhering to juvenile system and in the process, they are rehabilitated instead of punished.

According to the Legal Information Institute (LII) of Cornell University Law School, the structure of juvenile justice is characterized as one of the fields of criminal law which is applied to an offender whose age and action are still not liable for criminal acts. This is because by law, the age of 18 years was determined as one’s criminal culpability. The juvenile justice system is distinct with juvenile laws and courts which ultimately aim to rehabilitate and not to penalize young offenders (“Juvenile Justice,” n.d.).

In turn, the juvenile justice system has been generally supported by the whole criminal justice system and laws of the state where a suitable police power may be extended. This is under the principle of assuring the security and wellbeing or overall benefit of adolescents even if they have committed crimes. Under the doctrine of “parens patriae,” the nation has the right to create and implement measures aimed at securing, caring, taking into custody and upholding juvenile offenders under its authority (“Juvenile Justice,” n.d.).

            Taking history accounts, Samaha (2005) wrote that laws, even for the past centuries, have signified a clear difference in the treatment of children and adults involved in criminal acts. People, in the earlier history, were categorized into three. These include children below seven years old who are not capable to create any criminal plan hence they should not be subjected to trial for criminal conduct. Second are children who have ages between seven and 14 years old and who were supposed to lack in ability to develop criminal intention except a proof indicates otherwise then their trial may be carried out. Lastly, young adults more that 14 years old who were presumed by law as capable to plan and implement a crime with an exemption if they are suffering from insanity or retardation (Samaha, 2005). From these categories, the need for a different justice system which will separately deal juvenile and adult crimes has emerged.

            The growth of the juvenile justice system was illustrated by Bartollas and Miller (2007) in an attractive but terrible manner. They referred to the condition of juvenile offenders, the works and obstacles of people working within the justice system and the need to address innate significant issues concerning the system. In doing so, the authors particularly described the prominent drug-trafficking groups which ruled on the later part of 1980s and 1990s. They added that the development of the system was manifested by various details on hate crimes, an assessment on the extensive alcohol and drug use by juveniles and the mounting fame of firearms among the young ones. The two also attributed the growth of the system to the emergence of boot camps, house custodies and advance technologies (Bartollas & Miller, 2007).

            Since the early times and even nowadays, the evolution of the system is subjected to challenges particularly the juvenile courts. Several hindrances are besetting juvenile courts such as personnel and budgetary constraints and even the alleged incompetence of some members of such court to analyze and appropriately apply juvenile-related laws. Out of these challenges, however, the most significant is the problem on the supposed ineffectiveness of juvenile courts to rehabilitate young offenders. This is where the debate concerning the practice of transferring young offenders to adult criminal courts has gained significance. It is alarmingly notable that the penalizing principle of adult criminal courts deliberately opposes the rehabilitative foundation and intention of juvenile justice (“Kids in the Adult Criminal System,” 2007).

Debates relating to such transfer from juvenile to adult courts are manifested in juvenile court proceedings as set forth in the Constitution. While the procedure of handling juvenile offenders does not totally vary from the process of adult criminal courts, its differences must not be disregarded. Since the American Constitution sets forth and guarantees for a person’s rights, it should always be the case in the management of the juvenile justice system. Hence, the protection of a juvenile’s rights and privileges should always be upheld particularly in carrying out the processes of court proceedings. These processes include referring an adolescent offender to the proper juvenile court or in some instances and based from the nature of offense, the juvenile is subjected to rehabilitation facilities. The court proceedings also require that in the event a young offender is referred to an adult court, enough grounds must be determined which will merit a petition to transfer the case to an adult court. In most instances, it is the juvenile courts which are the suitable venues to handle cases of the young ones. This is because the court proceedings in such kind of court are all aimed at the promotion and protection of the rights of the juvenile offenders (“Survey of Criminal Justice,” n.d.).

The escalating debate concerning the transfer of juvenile offenders to adult criminal courts have definitely presented similar and opposing arguments. Those who oppose such move based their argument from the main principle that juvenile offenders need to be rehabilitated by juvenile courts rather than tried by adult courts. This is because they regard the juvenile justice system as the fitting venue where the young offenders will be made to realize that what they have violated the law and eventually be treated in accordance with the appropriate handling of adolescents. The premise of going against the transfer of juvenile offenders to adult courts is also based from the alarming realities that young offenders are still not able to stand or competent to be tried in a venue which inadvertently violates their basic rights as young adults. The perspective of subjecting the young offenders to the cruelties of adult criminal world is also another ground why the need to oppose the said transfer (Bartollas & Miller, 2007).

Those who in favor, on the other hand, pointed out that just like adult offenders, juvenile offenders are very much aware of their criminal acts culpability hence the need for them to be subjected to court proceedings similar to adult suspects in order to achieve realization among the young offenders. Additionally, the increasing gravity of the crimes committed by juvenile offenders is a significant indicator of the requirement to transfer the trial of young offenders involved in heinous crimes to adult courts (Samaha, 2005).

The sensitivity of the nature and implications of juvenile justice system must not be taken for granted. With an ultimate goal to save and rehabilitate young offenders rather than punish them, it is empirical to analyze the effects of subjecting them through an adult criminal system. Whatever the case may be, it is certain that juvenile system maintains its purpose of protecting the welfare of young offenders even if they were made to violate laws.


Bartollas, C. & Miller, S.J. (2007). Juvenile Justice in America. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School (n.d.) Juvenile Justice: an Overview. Retrieved January 20, 2009, from

Physicians for Human Rights. (2007). Kids in the Adult Criminal System. Retrieved January 20, 2009, from

Samaha, J. (2005). Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Survey of Criminal Justice. (n.d.). In International Encyclopedia of Justice Studies. Retrieved January 20, 2009, from