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Juvenile Justice: Rights During the Adjudicatory Process

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Publication Date: April 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33966

Topic: Justice (Judgments and sentences)


As more attention is being focused on juvenile offenders, some question whether the justice system is dealing with this population appropriately. Since the late 1960s, the juvenile justice system has undergone significant modifications resulting from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, changes in federal and state law, and the growing belief that juveniles were increasingly involved in more serious and violent crimes. Consequently, at both the federal and states levels, the juvenile justice system has shifted from a mostly rehabilitative system to a more punitive one, with serious ramifications for juvenile offenders. Despite this shift, juveniles are generally not afforded the panoply of rights afforded to adult criminal defendants. The U.S. Constitution requires that juveniles receive many of the features of an adult criminal trial, including notice of charges, right to counsel, privilege against selfincrimination, right to confrontation and cross-examination, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and double jeopardy. However, in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, the Court held that juveniles do not have a fundamental right to a jury trial during adjudicatory proceedings.

The Sixth Amendment explicitly guarantees the right to an impartial jury trial in criminal prosecutions. In Duncan v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that this right is fundamental and guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the Court has since limited its holding in Duncan to adult defendants by stating that the right to a jury trial is not constitutionally required for juveniles in juvenile court proceedings. Some argue that because the Court has determined that jury trials are not constitutionally required for juvenile adjudications, courts should not treat or consider juvenile adjudications in subsequent criminal proceedings. In addition, some argue that the use of non-jury juvenile adjudications in subsequent criminal proceedings violates due process guarantees, because juvenile justice and adult criminal proceedings are fundamentally different.

Has the juvenile justice system changed in such a manner that the Supreme Court should revisit the question of jury trials in juvenile adjudications? Are the procedural safeguards in the juvenile justice system sufficient to ensure their reliable use for sentence enhancement purposes in adult criminal proceedings? To help address these questions, this report provides a brief background on the purpose of the juvenile system and discusses procedural due process protections provided by the Court for juveniles during adjudicatory hearings. It also discusses the Court's emphasis on the jury's role in criminal proceedings and will be updated as events warrant.