Juvenile Proceedings

Author:Robert H. Mnookin

Page 1522

In a juvenile proceeding, a state court is asked to decide whether and how to intervene in the life of a child who may need supervision or protection. These proceedings often take place in a juvenile or family court and usually have two distinct phases: a "jurisdictional" stage, at which the judge must decide whether there are grounds for intervention; and a "dispositional" phase, in which the judge decides how to intervene. Juvenile court statutes typically provide for JURISDICTION in three types of cases: the delinquency case, where a young person is found to have violated a criminal law; the case where the child's conduct is not criminal, but the child is found to be beyond parental control, or in need of supervision because of improper or protocriminal conduct, such as truancy, or running away; and the dependency case, where by reason of parental neglect or abuse the child is in need of protection. Once jurisdiction is established, the court typically has broad discretionary authority in the "dispositional phase" of juvenile proceedings to intervene into the child's life through supervision, or out-of-home placement in foster care or a residential institution.

At COMMON LAW, there were neither special courts nor separate proceedings for minors accused of violating the law. "Infancy" provided a defense, somewhat akin to insanity, in a case where because of immaturity a child lacked the capacity to form the requisite criminal intent. Presumptions made it impossible to find the requisite intent in children under seven, and difficult to find it in those between seven and fourteen. Youths over fourteen were presumed capable. Except for this possible defense, a child could be arrested, indicted, tried, and convicted just like an adult. Minors were regularly charged with crimes, tried like adults, and jailed and imprisoned with adult offenders.

In the nineteenth century, reformers began questioning the appropriateness of treating youthful and adult offenders alike. A revolution began in 1899, when Illinois established the first juvenile court. Hailed as a more humane and effective way of helping children in trouble get back on the track to good citizenship, the Illinois court became a model; by 1925 nearly every state had adopted LEGISLATION providing for some sort of juvenile proceedings. For these new juvenile proceedings, the implicit model of authority was not the traditional criminal trial with adversarial procedures but the family itself, with the state as parens patriae.

The philosophy of the early juvenile court emphasized four tenets. The first was rehabilitation, rather than deterrence or punishment. The state's goal was to save the wayward child through appropriate treatment. The second was individualization: justice for children was to be personalized. The court's primary goal was to determine whether a child needed help, and then to prescribe on an individualized basis the appropriate treatment. The third was separation: children were to be kept away from adult criminals who might physically brutalize minors or teach them criminal habits. Finally, juvenile procedure emphasized procedural informality. Although the adversarial determination of facts might be appropriate for a criminal trial where the purpose was punishment, legalistic formalities were thought to be counterproductive in a juvenile proceeding where the purpose was rehabilitation.

Before 1967, because of the philosophy of the juvenile court and its traditions of procedural informality, juvenile proceedings typically offered none of the safeguards afforded adults in criminal trials. Juvenile court...

To continue reading