Unfortunately, crime has no age limit, and that notion is where the juvenile justice system comes into play. Any children under the age of 18 who stand accused of delinquent or criminal activity are able to be tried in a court of law under a specific court system that is aimed directly at young offenders: the juvenile justice court.
But what is the juvenile justice court exactly, and how does it work in comparison to the regular court system?
What is the Juvenile Justice Court?
A juvenile justice court- otherwise known as the young offender’s court- is a form of a tribunal (an institution given the authority to pass judgment) that is able to pass judgment upon young people who have not yet reached the age of majority.
The age of majority refers to the age at which children cross over the barrier of childhood and into adulthood. In most countries, the age of majority is 18, though some will lower or raise that age. In the United States, the age of majority is not to be confused with the age of license, a similar ideal which is instead related to a “permission” of sorts wherein the age dictates when a person can legally do certain things or obtain certain items.
An example of this is the age at which a young person can legally obtain liquor or gain a driver’s license. The age of majority changes with each state, but most consider this age to be 18 (in the United States, this fluctuates between 18 and 21).
In most countries, the juvenile justice court treats children who commit certain crimes differently from adults of the legal age who committed the same crime.
However, there are some countries wherein children who have committed more severe crimes- such as murder- may be tried as adults. England does this, for example.
The creation of a more universal juvenile justice system has been encouraged by the United Nations, though the practicality of that ideal leaves a lot to be desired.
The Difference Between the Juvenile Justice Courts and Adult Courts
There are several key differences be adult and juvenile courts, including the following:
- Most jurisdictions in a juvenile justice court do not have a jury involved. One judge will usually act as the fact-finder during a juvenile trial. This will significantly shorten a trial (it cuts down on time thanks to not having to go through the process of selecting a jury and then waiting upon a verdict) but it does not change the general workings of the trial in that the juvenile is still considered innocent until proven guilty and will still face their offenses with an appropriate judgment.
- The notion of rehabilitation over punishment is enforced even more so in juvenile court. The best interests of the child and the public are the main priority, as well as giving the juvenile the chance to reenter society and become rehabilitated in terms of committing offenses before they come of age and enter the adult world.
- Hearings for adult courts will often be open to the public but juvenile courts will be closed, with only a select few able to go inside such as the child themselves, their family, lawyers, and probation, all of whom are allowed full access to the court.
- The terminology is also different when it comes to juvenile court. If a child is found guilty and sentenced, they will be known as an “adjudicated delinquent.” If an adult is found guilty, they are “convicted.” The terminology is not as harsh to reflect the youth and possible lack of understanding of the juvenile in comparison to the adult offender.
- Adult hearings will take place in the county where the defendant has been charged. Whilst this is usually where the particular offense took place, this is not always the case. With juvenile cases, these hearings will always take place in the county where the offense was committed, no matter where the juvenile was charged. The juvenile will also be tried in the county where the incident occurred. The only factor that can change this is if the juvenile does not live in the county where the offense took place. If they do not reside there, the case will typically be moved to the county where the juvenile resides.
- The importance of family in juvenile court cases cannot be understated. Parents and guardians of the juvenile in question play a necessarily active role in the process. In adult cases, it may just be the defendant that a lawyer will interact with. However, in a juvenile case, lawyers will find themselves interacting with all manner of family members or legal guardians of the child in question.
Now that we have a grasp on what a juvenile court is and how it differs from an adult court, let’s take a look at the purpose of the juvenile justice court in our society.
The Purpose of the Juvenile Justice Court
There are several goals that the court will set up and will strive to achieve when it comes to the case of a juvenile. In comparison to adult court, the main focus is rehabilitation over punishment (as mentioned above). This will differ depending on a few factors, such as the age of the juvenile defendant and the severity of the crime committed.
However, rehabilitation for both the development of the child and in order to maintain public safety are usually the two top priorities in juvenile court. Their purpose is to encourage the juvenile to learn from their actions, to rehabilitate them, to show them the critical nature of maintaining public safety and acknowledging what their specific treatment needs might be.
An adult court will emphasize these points within their courts as well (depending on the nature of the offense and each individual perpetrator), particularly with cases related to mental health. However, these points are all the more prevalent within the juvenile courts.
As we mentioned, the protection of the public is also one of the most- if not the absolute most- important factors to consider in all criminal dealings and court activities, and the juvenile justice court system is no exception. The promotion of public safety is an essential element of a juvenile court.
This ties in with the need to encourage personal responsibility, accountability, and awareness of surroundings to the youths that may find themselves in the juvenile courtroom. To do this, juveniles needed to be treated in accordance with their individual needs and characteristics, as well as treated appropriately in regard to their age.
Let’s sum up our findings of the purpose of juvenile justice courts:
- To ensure that juveniles are aware of the gravity of their actions and are held accountable for said actions.
- To protect the public and the community from juvenile delinquency.
- To ensure that the importance of the safety and protection of the public is made apparent to the juvenile offenders.
- To assess each juvenile delinquent individually and act according to their needs.
- Use these individual and unique assessments to provide the most appropriate form of rehabilitation for the juvenile delinquent to prevent further misconduct.
- Development via the teaching of a range of social and educational elements such as encouraging vocational achievements, emotional stability, personal development, and furthering education.
- To give the juvenile defendant a chance to grow and learn from their errors.
- To ensure that all of the appropriate legalities- such as legal rights and understanding of the law in regard to the offense- are explained to all parties involved, both the juvenile and their parents/families/guardians, and are enforced fairly.
- To pass judgment fairly whilst taking into consideration the safety of the public, the individual needs of the juvenile, and the committed offense.