Case Study on Juvenile Prosecution

Fictitious Case Scenario

Joshua, a 15-year-old boy with a long arrest record, is charged with murdering three bank tellers during a bank robbery. Your colleague Judy, known to be a
hard-line prosecutor, tries to persuade the rest of your prosecution team to try Joshua as an adult. She contends that the case will be tried by a judge and that, therefore, it will be much easier to obtain a conviction and a tough sentence in an adult court.

Transferring a Juvenile to Adult Court

Transferring a juvenile to adult court is a serious decision that has huge consequences for the juvenile.  It should only be considered in very extreme cases when the crime is especially violent, or heinous, and when the juvenile is a repeat offender showing very little signs of possible rehabilitation within the juvenile court system.  The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention states, “Prosecution in criminal court exposes juveniles to the same penalties as adults. They may face a life or death sentence, incarceration in State prison, and a permanent criminal record with attendant disabilities. Juveniles adjudicated in juvenile proceedings, on the other hand, generally must be released at age 21, receive rehabilitative treatment in a juvenile facility, and may be permitted to have their juvenile records expunged.”

There are a few different ways in which a juvenile can be transferred to adult court jurisdiction.  They include judicial waiver, direct file, and statutory exclusion.  Judicial waiver is the most common form of transfer used today and it gives a juvenile court judge the authority to waiver his/her jurisdiction over the juvenile and transfer them into adult court jurisdiction.  Direct file is handled by the prosecution.  It is a transfer mechanism that gives prosecutorial discretion to the state in order to file adult criminal charges against the juvenile directly in adult court.  Statutory exclusion is conducted on the state legislative level and provides that specific crimes committed by juveniles automatically transfers the juvenile to adult court jurisdiction to be tried as an adult. (Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, 2010).

While states have engaged in expanding legislation that gives more and more options for statutory exclusion transfers, at younger and younger ages for juveniles, under the belief that some juveniles are beyond rehabilitation and that juvenile crimes are becoming more violent, the actual result of these legislations has been that the majority of juveniles waived into adult courts have been accused of nonviolent offenses.  What’s more is that studies indicate that this expanding legislation has not resulted in a decline of juvenile crime.  In fact, one study showed that juveniles transferred into adult courts are more likely to recidivate than those kept within the juvenile court system. (Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, 2010).

Regarding the Case Study

It is difficult to say with the information provided whether Joshua should be tried in adult court or not.  He is only fifteen years old and in my personal and professional opinion that is too young to be understanding of the consequences of your actions.  However, Joshua has committed a very serious offense, triple murder during the commission of a robbery, and has a long arrest record to boot.  I would be curious to see the details of Joshua’s arrest record, and would need that information in my final decision as to whether Joshua should be transferred to adult court or not.  In addition, more details of the most recent crime could assist my decision as well.  Was Joshua acting alone?  Did he have an accomplice?  Did Joshua initiate the aggression or did he unintentionally murder the tellers in a fit of panic at some point? There are a lot of possible details that could lower Joshua’s culpability for these murders.  If his previous arrest record did not include any violent crimes, and there were factors in the current crime that could reasonably lead to less culpability for Joshua then I would recommend that he not be transferred to adult court.  At fifteen years old there is still a chance that Joshua can be rehabilitated but if he is placed in the adult system it is more likely than not that a future dangerous criminal will have been permanently molded.  I would also like to see what past attempts at rehabilitation were provided to Joshua after his previous arrests.  If extensive rehabilitation has already been provided to Joshua and he continued on his slippery slope toward the eventual commitment of murder then it is probable that Joshua is beyond the assistance of the juvenile court system at this point.

Kent v. United States (1966)

Kent v. United States (1966) states that, “A juvenile must be given due process before being transferred from a juvenile court to an adult court.” (delCarmen, Ritter, & Witt, 2005, p. 284).  Prior to this case, the Juvenile court system followed a more strict philosophy of parens patriae which translates to “the state as parent”.  The juvenile court system was supposed to be less taxing on the juvenile by providing an informal environment where court officials acted as “wise parents” who guided the youth with advice, kindness, and sanctions that were to be rehabilitative as opposed to punitive.  In order to maintain this environment, however, many of the constitutional rights enjoyed by adult offenders were not available to youth.  Kent v. United States (1966) was the first Supreme Court case to provide any type of recognition of due process for juveniles in juvenile proceedings.  This decision would be followed by several others, however, which have extended most protections available to adult offenders to juvenile offenders.

Regarding the Case Study

In the event that Joshua is transferred to adult court, there are severe repercussions that he will face.  Probably most importantly, if he is found guilty of the murders he will face much stiffer penalties than if found “delinquent” by the juvenile courts, even possibly facing a life sentence or the death penalty.  On the other hand, he will gain a few rights with the transfer that are not generally afforded to juveniles as a constitutional right (although they may be granted as state law in some states): the right to a jury trial, the right to bail, the right to a public trial, and the right to a grand jury indictment.  The trade-off does not seem a good one for Joshua and it would be much more advantageous for Joshua to remain within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982)

Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982) states that, “Mitigating circumstances, including age and relevant social history, must be considered in juvenile capital cases.” (delCarmen, Ritter, & Witt, 2005, p. 305).  While aggravating factors are presented by the prosecution as evidence of additional culpability to convict the offender (factors such as the level of violence in the crime, future dangerousness, etc.), mitigating factors are presented by the defense in order to show a lesser level of culpability for the crime.  In juvenile cases, a mitigating factor is always the age of the defendant, but other mitigating factors can include the social history of the defendant including his family background and upbringing, as well as mental and/or psychological factors which may have negatively influenced the defendant making him/her less culpable for their crimes.  Showing that a defendant was raised by alcoholic parents who abused him, raised in poverty and learning to survive only by means of criminal acts, can appeal to the senses of most in showing that the defendant is himself a victim and that his criminal acts are, in fact, response to this environment leading to the belief that if this environment can be corrected for the youth, then his behavior can change, i.e., he can be rehabilitated. (delCarmen, Ritter, & Witt, 2005).

Regarding the Case Study

Under Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982), Joshua would be entitled to a delinquency hearing in which all mitigating circumstances, including his age and relevant social history, can be considered.  While we are not given any information in the case study on Joshua’s relevant social history, it is very likely that Joshua has been raised in a neighborhood stricken with crime and poverty, and probably has very little positive influences in his life from parents or authority figures.  These types of social mitigating circumstances can assist Joshua in demonstrating that he needs help rather than punishment.

Weaknesses and Strengths in the Prosecution’s Course of Action

If the lead prosecuting attorney gets her way, Joshua will be transferred to an adult court.  She claims that he will be tried by a judge and it will be much easier to obtain a conviction.  She is not entirely accurate.  After being transferred to adult court, Joshua will have the right to a trial by jury which he would not have if he remains within the juvenile court system (although he may still be allowed a jury trial by request depending on which state he is being tried in).  In a jury trial, there is a good chance that things could go either way for Joshua and therefore this decision would be a gamble on the prosecution’s part.  With the right jury selection, it is possible that mitigating circumstances that are introduced could be severe enough to elicit empathy from the jury that would lead to a more lenient penalty for Joshua.  However, things could go the other way as well.  The public has been led to believe there is a violent type of youth predator on the streets and that juvenile crime is increasing.  The public tends to be afraid of this type of youth, as they should be; however, this type of youth is not as prevalent as the media would like us to believe.  Most youths are a victim of circumstances and bad influences and are not inherently “evil”.  The defense can attempt to educate the jury as to these facts and the benefits to being lenient on their sentencing of Joshua; however, there is a good chance that due to fear, the jury will provide a maximum penalty for Joshua.

In essence, the possible weakness and the strength in the lead prosecutor’s course of action are one and the same: a jury trial.  Having a jury trial for Joshua may turn out to be a weakness if the jury empathizes with Joshua’s mitigating circumstances.  However, the jury could turn out to be a strength for the prosecution if the jury is uneducated as to the benefits of rehabilitation for Joshua, and rules out of fear, based on media representations of juvenile predators.

Works Cited

delCarmen, R. V., Ritter, S. E., & Witt, B. A. (2005). Briefs of Leading Cases in Corrections. Albany: Lexis Nexis.

Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention. (2010). Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention:



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