Should Juveniles be Treated as Adults

Subject: Law
Pages: 3
Words: 973
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4 min
Study level: College

The fundamental idea behind American Juvenile Justice System, in most cases, is not to punish juveniles but to seek to rehabilitate them in American society. Therefore, in most cases, the motive of law would be not in terms of whether the juvenile is found guilty or innocent, but to carry out some past research on his previous conduct, what he was doing, how he has reaches such a state, and what could be possibly be done to save him from sinking deeper to the morass of criminal behavior.

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More significantly, what detriment or threat does he pose to the society at large, and how this could be effectively countered by deterrent punishment?

Should juveniles be tried as adults?

The fact about juveniles being tried would be in terms of determining which alternative is less arbitrary and high-handed, and without the due process of law being denied to alleged offender including preservation of his fundamental rights under US Constitution.

In some respects, summary decisions in an adult court would be quick and less burdensome, as was observed in the Gault case in 1967. In this case, a minor fifteen-year-old boy, Gerald Gault was accused of having made an indecent telephone call to a neighbor woman. The police took him to custody, detained him overnight without informing his parents. Subsequently, even without providing him with means of legal defense, he was adjudicated a delinquent and committed to reformatory school until adulthood, i.e. for 6 years. Had he been tried in an adult court, he would have got a maximum of $50 fine or 2 months in jail. (Feld, 1999, p.99).

But being a juvenile delinquent he was committed to six years in reform school. Thus, Gault case has been an issue of controversy, since it denied even basic fundamental rights to the alleged offender.

Does it depend upon the crime committed?

Certainly, it most definitely depends upon the nature of crime committed. For instance murder, rape or other sexual offenses committed by juveniles are serious crimes that need to be tried as criminal cases, irrespective of the minor status of the perpetrator.

in the US case of Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the rarity and gruesomeness of the murder committed by a 17 year old boy, Simmons, along with another 15 year old boy, forced the US Supreme Court to award him the death penalty. However, this was later commuted to life imprisonment, since capital punishment is said to be violative of the provisions contained in the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. (Should juveniles ever be treated as adults, n.d).

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In the case of juveniles, the question of moral blameworthiness is important, since most courts believe that considering their tender ages, lack of mental maturity and reasoning powers, they would not be in the right frame of mind, in certain circumstances, to distinguish between good and evil. Moreover, their impressionable minds could be influenced by peer groups and adverse environmental factors that could provoke them to commit, or join in crimes, sometimes even against their better sense.

Further, Courts often argue that since the adult personalities of adolescents are not fully formed at that age, it is possible that even heinous crimes committed by them do not really reflect their true innate character.

What should determining factor be in deciding to transfer juveniles up to adult courts?

There are schools of thought who advocate that if juveniles are mature enough to commit adult crimes like murder, rape and felony, they also need to be tried and punished like adults. But this, according to the writer does not solve the problems- at best, it just exacerbates it.

Private studies were made regarding the effectiveness of juveniles who have been waived to adult courts, as against the ones who have been sent to juvenile courts. (The future of children, 2008).

It has been found that the propensity for recidivism (propensity to commit crimes again)

Is higher in cases of offenders who have been tried to adult courts, as against the ones who were sent to correctional centers.

Thus, it is seen that the important aspect would need to be the nature and seriousness of the crime and the circumstance of its commission. Thus could also be seen in terms of the fact that the act is correctional or not. Except for criminal acts like murder, sexual predations, crimes committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which are incorrible and cannot be treated in correctional centers, it is most appropriate that other offences need to be heard and sentenced in juvenile courts. This is because, considering their young age (below 18 years), lack of well defined adult personality and powers of personal judgments, it would be ill advised, from point of view of both the offender and the State, to try these alleged offenders in adult courts, although the extent and degree of their crime may far surpass that tried in adult Courts.

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The writer for one would consider the circumstances of the case, its character and the roles played by each alleged offender before deciding whether it needs to be tried in an adult Court or a correctional juvenile court. Often it is seen that from the punitive point of view, a judgments by a juvenile court could be more damning for an offender than an adult court. [See Gault case (1967]

Post Gault, the judiciary system seems to have moved full circle, and courts have begun to take a more conciliatory attitude towards juvenile crimes and its legal ramifications.

The main aspect would, of course be the mens rea and actus rea, which form a significant part of conduct.

It is needed that punishment whether correctional or punitive, needs to commensurate with the nature and results of the crime, its impact on the victims and the role of the alleged offender(s).


Feld, Barry. C. (1999). Constitutional domestication. Bad Kids. Web.

Should juveniles ever be treated as adults. (n.d.). Dialogue on Youth and Justice. Web.

The future of children. (2008). Juvenile Justice. Web.

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