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The Development of Juvenile Justice


The Supreme Court has always been struggling with treating young criminals since it was considered that each person must be equal before the law regardless of age, status, and other aspects. Nonetheless, the courts argued that children are different from adults; thus, they should receive other kinds of punishment and rights. Therefore, this paper aims to view three cases that shaped the modern juvenile system.

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In re Gault (1967) was the first vital case for juvenile justice development in the United States. In 1964 a teenage boy Gerald Gault was accused of making a foul call to his neighbor and put into a detention home. Because the first hearing lacked any testimony and records, it was necessary to schedule the second one. The witness did not come to the second hearing, and the judge decided that Gerald was a criminal and ordered him to be jailed until he was 21 years old. However, if he had been an adult, he would have been entitled to procedural protections and would have been fined rather than imprisoned (Harris & Mooney, 2019).

Therefore, this case became the turning point since it proclaimed that children are endowed with the same legal rights as adults are. According to the lawsuit, kids facing delinquency prosecution had a request for an attorney, could keep silent, could be notified of charges, and had the privilege against self-incrimination (Tannenhaus, 2017). Making everybody equal before the law was the main impact of the case.

The McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971) was the second case that has influenced the juvenile justice system because it dismissed the jury for adjudicating young criminals. Two teenagers John McKeiver and Edward Terry were charged with robbery and police officer battery, respectively. Nevertheless, their attorneys have rejected jury trials, and the boys were found to be delinquent. Layers on behalf of the young culprits claimed that they should be granted the same rights as adults do; in particular, they should request a fair and impartial jury.

Meanwhile, the state attorneys argued that the Sixth Amendment did not guarantee that right, and the judge was to decide their fate. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the right to a jury trial should not apply to juveniles (Tannenhaus, 2017). McKeever v. Pennsylvania stopped the gradual inclusion of constitutional protections for criminal youths. The case still allowed the states to put children to a jury trial; however, it was not mandatory for their defense in the juvenile justice system.

The Stanford v. Kentucky (1989) case was increasingly essential for establishing the minimum age for a penalty. After two underage criminals were accused of rape and murder, they were allowed to execute under the law since they committed felonies. Kentucky proclaimed that 16 was the appropriate age for the death penalty, while Missouri determined it to be over 14 (Harris & Mooney, 2019). Therefore, the culprits were both sentenced to death. After the occurrence, there were many debates that juveniles’ death penalty is cruel since they are not entirely responsible for their actions. Thus, the case provided a context for the evolution of the Court’s position on the death penalty for minors. The felonies committed by children, in this case, seem to have determined the minimum age for execution.


In conclusion, it seems reasonable to state that many similar cases helped shape the modern juvenile system. The three issues are examined to prove that the courts have evolved and allowed young people to have the same rights as adults. Undoubtedly, much remains to be changed, as the level of juvenile delinquency remains a severe problem in modern society.

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Harris, D. & Mooney, C. (2019). The juvenile justice system. Abdo Publishing.

Tannenhaus, D. (2017). The constitutional rights of children: In re Gault and juvenile justice. University Press of Kansas.

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