Before the 1960s, children and adolescents had no clearly stated due process rights set according to the standards of the juvenile justice system. The situation changed in 1967 with reference to the case of Gerald Gault when the U.S. Supreme Court formulated the due process rights of juveniles (Wills, 2017). Decisions made by the Supreme Court for In re Gault (1967) altered the principles of the juvenile justice system and made it similar to the adult justice system, and the purpose of this paper is to describe and summarize more Supreme Court decisions and cases that have contributed to changing the due process rights of juvenile delinquents.
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In re Gault (1967) became the key case that altered the principles of addressing juveniles in courts and made a kind of a revolution in the juvenile justice system. Thus, 15-year-old Gerald Gault was arrested for making improper phone calls to Mrs. Cook, but his parents were not informed, and he did not receive the prior notice of the charges. During informal hearings, it was decided that Gault would be committed to a juvenile school for six years (Wills, 2017).
The decision was reconsidered in the context of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court formulated certain due process rights of juveniles. Thus, the Supreme Court stated that juvenile offenders became entitled to “basic due process rights, including advance notice of charges, the right to counsel, the rights to confrontation and cross-examination, the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to a transcript of the proceedings, and the right to appellate review” (Hannan, 2014, p. 8). Consequently, juvenile hearings became formal and similar to adult hearings.
The next case that extended the due process rights of juveniles was In re Winship (1970). In this case, the Supreme Court decided to apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” principle to juvenile proceedings instead of the “preponderance of the evidence” principle (Hannan, 2014, p. 9).
This level of proof was equal to the principle followed in the adult justice system. From this point, the Supreme Court decision influenced the due process rights of juveniles while guaranteeing the fair treatment and following the standards typical of hearings that involved adults (Bates & Swan, 2017). Furthermore, the parens patriae principle, according to which the state with its institutions was discussed as a substitute for parents in case of juveniles, was also addressed due to this decision, and it significantly changed the juvenile justice system.
In the 1970s, there was one more case that contributed to extending and altering the due process rights of juvenile delinquents. In Breed v. Jones (1975), the Supreme Court stated that, according to the principle of the double jeopardy clause, the further criminal prosecution of a minor was prohibited if the case had been heard previously involving a juvenile, and the case had been heard in a juvenile court (Hannan, 2014).
This decision was in line with the Fifth Amendment, and it became impossible to conduct the criminal prosecution of a juvenile if he or she had been previously treated according to the standards of a juvenile court (Bates & Swan, 2017; Hannan, 2014). Therefore, the risk of punishing a minor twice for the same crime was addressed.
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One more influential case that contributed to increasing and altering the due process rights of juveniles was Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988). In this case, the Supreme Court decided that capital punishment proposed to be applied to a juvenile when he was a 15-year-old boy was not in line with the Eighth Amendment (Bates & Swan, 2017). According to the Eighth Amendment, the extremely cruel punishment was prohibited following the constitutional norms, and the decision made in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988) influenced the further discussion of capital punishment for juveniles.
Thus, the Supreme Court formulated the decision, according to which the death penalty for persons under the age of 16 was prohibited (Bates & Swan, 2017). Such a decision was a plurality opinion, and the Eighth Amendment became applied only to the cases of juveniles under the age of 16. However, it is important to note that this decision of the Supreme Court also influenced the procedure of receiving due process rights by juvenile delinquents.
After analyzing the cases that have altered the due process rights of minors, it is possible to state that the period of the 1960s-1980s was the most important one. The reason is that, before In re Gault (1967), there had been no declared due process rights of juveniles, and this aspect influenced the quality and fairness of conducted hearings and proposed treatments. The situation changed in 1967 when the Supreme Court formulated the due process rights of minors that were similar to the rights of adults.
Further cases developed the process of extending rights for juvenile offenders in order to avoid the use of the parens patriae principle and guarantee the equality in treating minors. From this point, the period of the 1960s-1980s was known as the revolutionary time in the field of the juvenile justice system. The discussed cases demonstrate how the juvenile justice system was altered with reference to the Supreme Court decisions in order to guarantee the protection of juvenile offenders.
Bates, K. A., & Swan, R. S. (2017). Juvenile delinquency in a diverse society (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing.
Hannan, W. (2014). Judicial waiver as the only equitable method to transfer juvenile offenders to criminal court. Symposium on Youth and the Law Papers, 22(1), 1-33.
Wills, C. D. (2017). Right to counsel in juvenile court 50 years after In re Gault. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 45(2), 140-144.