skip navigation
search

CRS Annotated Constitution

Fourteenth Amendment -- Table of ContentsPrev | Next

The Problem of the Juvenile Offender.—All of the States of the Union and the District of Columbia make provision for dealing with juvenile offenders outside of the criminal system for adult offenders.181 These juvenile justice systems apply both to offenses that would be criminal if committed by an adult and to delinquent behavior not recognizable under laws dealing with adults, such as habitual truancy, deportment endangering the morals or health of the juvenile or others, or disobedience making the juvenile uncontrollable by his parents. The reforms of the early part of this century provided not only for segregating juveniles from adult offenders in the adjudication, detention, and correctional facilities, but they also dispensed with the substantive and procedural rules surrounding criminal trials which were mandated by due process. Justification for this abandonment of constitutional guarantees was offered by describing juvenile courts as civil not criminal and as not dispensing criminal punishment, and offering the theory that the state was acting as parens patriae for the juvenile offender and was in no sense his adversary.182 Disillusionment with the results of juvenile reforms coupled with judicial emphasis on constitutional protection of the accused led in the 1960s to a substantial restriction of these elements of juvenile jurisprudence.

After tracing in much detail this history of juvenile courts, the Court held in In re Gault183 that the application of due process to juvenile proceedings would not endanger the good intentions vested in the system nor diminish the features of the system which were deemed desirable—emphasis upon rehabilitation rather than pun[p.1781]ishment, a measure of informality, avoidance of the stigma of criminal conviction, the low visibility of the process—but that the consequences of the absence of due process standards made their application necessary. “Ultimately, however, we confront the reality of that portion of the juvenile court process with which we deal in this case. A boy is charged with misconduct. The boy is committed to an institution where he may be restrained of liberty for years. It is of no constitutional consequence—and of limited practical meaning—that the institution to which he is committed is called an Industrial School. The fact of the matter is that, however euphemistic the title, a ‘receiving home’ or an ‘industrial school’ for juveniles is an institution of confinement in which the child is incarcerated for a greater or lesser time. His world becomes ‘a building with whitewashed walls, regimented routine and institutional hours. . . .’ Instead of mother and father and sisters and brothers and friends and classmates, his world is peopled by guards, custodians, state employees, and ‘delinquents’ confined with him for anything from waywardness to rape and homicide. “In view of this, it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and the exercise of care implied in the phrase ‘due process.’ Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”184

Thus, the Court in Gault required that notice of charges be given in time for the juvenile to prepare a defense, required a hearing in which the juvenile could be represented by retained or appointed counsel, required observance of the rights of confrontation and cross– examination, and required that the juvenile be protected against self– incrimination.185 It did not pass upon the right of appeal or the failure to make transcripts of hearings. Earlier, the Court had held that before a juvenile could be “waived” to an adult court for trial, there had to be a hearing and findings of reasons, a result based on statutory interpretation but apparently constitutionalized in Gault.186 Subsequently, it was held that the “essentials of due process and fair treatment” required that a juvenile could be adjudged delinquent only on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt when the offense charged would be a crime if com[p.1782]mitted by an adult,187 but still later the Court held that jury trials were not constitutionally required in juvenile trials.188

On a few occasions the Court has considered whether rights accorded to adults during investigation of crime are to be accorded juveniles. In one such case the Court ruled that a juvenile undergoing custodial interrogation by police had not invoked a Miranda right to remain silent by requesting permission to consult with his probation officer, since a probation officer could not be equated with an attorney, but indicated as well that a juvenile’s waiver of Miranda rights was to be evaluated under the same totality–of–the–circumstances approach applicable to adults. That approach “permits—indeed it mandates—inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the interrogation . . . includ[ing] evaluation of the juvenile’s age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and into whether he has the capacity to understand the warnings given him. . . .”189 In another case the Court ruled that, while the Fourth Amendment applies to searches of students by public school authorities, neither the warrant requirement nor the probable cause standard is appropriate.190 Instead, a simple reasonableness[p.1783]standard governs all searches of students’ persons and effects by school authorities.191

The Court ruled in Schall v. Martin192 that preventive detention of juveniles does not offend due process when it serves the legitimate state purpose of protecting society and the juvenile from potential consequences of pretrial crime, when the terms of confinement serve those legitimate purposes and are nonpunitive, and when procedures provide sufficient protection against erroneous and unnecessary detentions. A statute authorizing pretrial detention of accused juvenile delinquents on a finding of “serious risk” that the juvenile would commit crimes prior to trial, providing for expedited hearings (the maximum possible detention was 17 days), and guaranteeing a formal, adversarial probable cause hearing within that period, was found to satisfy these requirements.

Each state has a procedure by which juveniles may be tried as adults.193 With the Court having clarified the consitutional requirements for imposition of capital punishment, it was only a matter of time before the Court would have to determine whether states may subject juveniles to capital punishment. In Stanford v. Kentucky,194 the Court held that the Eighth Amendment does not categorically prohibit imposition of the death penalty for individuals who commit crimes at age 16 or 17; earlier the Court had invalidated a statutory scheme permitting capital punishment for crimes committed before age 16.195 In weighing validity under the Eighth Amendment, the Court has looked to state practice to determine whether a consensus against execution exists.196


Footnotes

181 For analysis of the state laws as well as application of constitutional principles to juveniles, see Samuel M. Davis, Rights of Juveniles: The Juvenile Justice System (2d ed. 1989).
182 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 12–29 (1967) .
183 387 U.S. 1 (1967) .
184 Id. at 27–28.
185 Id. at 31–35. Justice Harlan concurred in part and dissented in part, id. at 65, agreeing on the applicability of due process but disagreeing with the standards of the Court. Justice Stewart dissented wholly, arguing that the application of procedures developed for adversary criminal proceedings to juvenile proceedings would endanger their objectives and contending that the decision was a backward step toward undoing the reforms instituted in the past. Id. at 78.
186 Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966) , noted on this point in In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 30–31 (1967) .
187 In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970) . Chief Justice Burger and Justice Stewart dissented, following essentially the Stewart reasoning in Gault. “The Court’s opinion today rests entirely on the assumption that all juvenile proceedings are ‘criminal prosecutions,’ hence subject to constitutional limitation. . . . What the juvenile court systems need is not more but less of the trappings of legal procedure and judicial formalism; the juvenile system requires breathing room and flexibility in order to survive, if it can survive the repeated assaults from this Court.” Id. at 375, 376. Justice Black dissented because he did not think the reasonable doubt standard a constitutional requirement at all. Id. at 377.
188 McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971) . No opinion was concurred in by a majority of the Justices. Justice Blackmun’s opinion of the Court, which was joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justices Stewart and White, reasoned that a juvenile proceeding was not “a criminal prosecution” within the terms of the Sixth Amendment, so that jury trials were not automatically required; instead, the prior cases had proceeded on a “fundamental fairness” approach and in that regard a jury was not a necessary component of fair factfinding and its use would have serious repercussions on the rehabilitative and protection functions of the juvenile court. Justice White also submitted a brief concurrence emphasizing the differences between adult criminal trials and juvenile adjudications. Id. at 551. Justice Brennan concurred in one case and dissented in another because in his view open proceedings would operate to protect juveniles from oppression in much the same way as a jury would. Id. at 553. Justice Harlan concurred because he did not believe jury trials were constitutionally mandated in state courts. Id. at 557. Justices Douglas, Black, and Marshall dissented. Id. at 557.
189 Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707, 725 (1979) .
190 New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985) (upholding the search of a student’s purse to determine whether the student possessed cigarettes in violation of schoool rule; evidence of drug activity held admissible in a prosecution under the juvenile laws).
191 This single rule, the Court explained, will permit school authorities “to regulate their conduct according to the dictates of reason and common sense.” 469U.S. at 343 469U.S. at 343. Rejecting the suggestion of dissenting Justice Stevens, the Court was “unwilling to adopt a standard under which the legality of a search is dependent upon a judge’s evaluation of the relative importance of various school rules.” Id. at n.9.
192 467 U.S. 253 (1984) .
193 See Samuel M. Davis, Rights of Juveniles: The Juvenile Justice System, ch. 4, “Waiver of Jurisdiction” (2d ed. 1989).
194 492 U.S. 361 (1989) .
195 Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988) .
196 See analysis of Eighth Amendment principles, supra pp. 1491–92.
Fourteenth Amendment -- Table of ContentsPrev | Next