Juvenile Courts in United States
Persons aged below 18 years are regarded as underage and when they break the law they are not charged in the adult courts. They are charged in the young offender courts which are also called Juvenile courts. For an offender to be eligible for juvenile court, he or she must be under the state’s laws categorized as a juvenile. The age of 18 years is the maximum age at which an offender can use juvenile courts. The applicable age in a few states is 16 or 17 years, while Wyoming State has 19 years as the maximum age. In that regard, people aged above 18 years are not eligible to undergo trial in juvenile courts.
Apart from the maximum age limit, the states have also set the minimum age that a child is eligible for juvenile courts. In most of the states, those under the age of 7 are not eligible for the courts since they cannot make a difference between what is wrong and what is right.
Ritter (2010) claims that persons under the age of seven years may not be capable of forming guilt mind. The decision whether children aged between 7 and 14 years has the ability to form a guilty mind is done by the judges. If the judge believes that the child had a capability of forming a criminal intent he can send him to the juvenile court. In juvenile courts, judges have an obligation of determining the fate of the juvenile offender: circumstances under which the juveniles are detained; when they are to be released; and how long their sentence is to take.
In most of the states, children aged 14 years and above are believed to be having a capability of forming criminal intent. Hence most of the cases that involve those aged between 14 and 18 years are resolved in the juvenile courts. According to the federal standards, one can only be considered a juvenile if he is aged 17 years and below. But each state has the authority of deciding who in terms of age is eligible of undergoing trial in juvenile courts.
Every state has special courts which deal with minors who have violated a criminal statute. Due to their young age, instead of being charged with the crime, juveniles are accused of having committed a delinquent act. Juvenile courts have legal authorities over the offender for a specific time period until when the offender becomes an adult, though they might be held for much longer periods. The adult age referred, in this case, is 18 years (Driver & Brank, 2009).
The United States has federal laws that apply to the whole country hence must be observed by all the States. But the states have been given power of enacting their own laws though they should ensure that the laws don’t violate the constitution or conflict the federal laws. The federal laws are uniformly applied in the whole country hence apart from the laws enacted by the states; the federal laws must be addressed adequately.
Kristin (2009) argues that having the power of enacting laws concerning juveniles is important because the different states have different kinds of environments and different people who lead life in different ways. For example, Texas and Oklahoma states have juvenile laws that cannot be applied in New England which has a heavy population. By giving each state power to enact their own laws is a way of enhancing democracy since people make their own decisions on how they want to be governed.
The difference in the laws in different States is because of the different ideas and beliefs that people have. Because states are made up of different kinds of people who differ in the way they think and what they believe in hence should be given a chance of choosing the way they are to be governed.
Another reason for differences in juvenile laws is the state’s history, for example, Texas has strict laws due to its history of violence. If the violence rates in a state are high, it develops very strict laws with an aim of putting an end to criminal activities. The offenders in Texas after attaining the age of 18 are discharged from probation. One of the reasons for the discharge is because of the high number of juvenile offenders that they have. Hence the number of offenders being held also affects the kind of laws enacted.
Given that states have different kinds of people one state can be more liberal than the other. Because of the existence of people with various backgrounds, some of them are very conservative and would want to maintain their conservative nature (Feld, 1997). Hence giving them a chance to make their own laws makes them create efficient and effective laws as per their backgrounds.
The juvenile justice has a role of rehabilitating but not punishing. In some cases when the juvenile court relinquishes or waives its jurisdiction, juveniles are transferred to adult courts. The federal government funds the State efforts of preventing juvenile delinquency as well as setting standards for the laws enacted by states.
The juvenile courts are supposed to hear cases that involve people aged between 10 and 18 years though in some states the upper age limit may be a little lower (Geraghty, 1997). If the offender who was involved in a violent offence is an older juvenile, he may be tried as an adult upon a request by the attorney. In some of the states, offenders aged above 14 years and accused of serious charges like rape and murder are directly charged in adult courts.
The procedure of the juvenile court differs from that of the adult court in that it is less formal. When juveniles are involved in criminal activities, they are detained but not arrested as in the case of adults. The records of the juvenile are maintained in a private manner and cannot be accessed by any person.
The protection is meant to ensure that the mistake done by the juvenile doesn’t follow him for the rest of his life. In case the juvenile has satisfied the set standards like good behavior, the records might be expunged during his eighteenth birthday. Juvenile courts are rehabilitation centers hence aim at ensuring that when the detained person leaves the courts, he is completely rehabilitated. Having achieved that, records of the past activities of the juvenile should not be kept since they can make him remember the harmful activities he did and may even try them out. The records might also make him remember his criminal activities and can feel guilty when he meets those people that he offended. That can adversely affect his relationship with other people in the society.
According to Sellers & Arrigo (2009) judges in juvenile courts are allowed through intermediary sentencing to set maximum sentences to the offenders. In such situations, there is a close monitoring of the juveniles during their sentences and the judge orders their release only if he is satisfied that they are rehabilitated. The judge also orders them to be released upon completion of their sentences. Juvenile offenders have no right to bail or public trial.
Different states have different juvenile codes of conduct, for example in California crime level determines the judgment. If the level of the crime is very high the juvenile undergoes trial as an adult. Until the juveniles reach 24 years of age, they are placed in the youth authority. Juvenile offenders in the state of California are in two categories: the state youth authority ward and county juvenile probationer. Approximately 3% of the offenders are under the supervision of the state youth authority while 97% of them are supervised by county probation departments.
In Boston one qualifies to be charged in juvenile courts if he is below 18 years of age. Upon attaining the age of 18 years, those juveniles that are well behaved have their sentences withdrawn and are set free. The trial of the juveniles is based on the level of crime, if it is very serious they are charged like adults but if not very serious they are tried as juveniles. The government exercises its authority over the following: juveniles who have been abused or neglected for seeking the state’s assistance; juveniles who have committed status offence and those involved in criminal conducts. But the government doesn’t have the authority of ordering punishment though it can order rehabilitative measures.
In Texas State for one to be eligible for trials in juvenile courts, he must be between 10 and 17 years of age and upon reaching 18 years he is supposed to be discharged. Juvenile offender in Texas state are treated in three ways: put in probation; felony offenders are held in Texas youth commission for unspecified period and other offenders for a specified period are held at Texas youth commission.
What people believe in and value is based on their cultural backgrounds and because different states have people with different backgrounds their values and beliefs differ (Packel, 2002). Due to that, laws that are applicable in one state may not be effective in another state with people of a different background. Given that people always want to live in democratic environments, giving them a chance of having a say on the laws that govern them makes them feel that they are democratically governed. Having laws that do not adequately address their beliefs and values may result in people breaking the law because it is hard for them to work contrary to what they believe in.
Enacting of laws should be done as per the values and beliefs of the community that the laws are supposed to govern. Nationalizing juvenile laws can result in abuse of the beliefs of some of the communities since some of the laws might contradict what the community values.
United States has many states which have different historical backgrounds for example in terms of criminal activities. A state like Texas has a history of high criminal activities hence must have strict juvenile laws that can ensure that no child is involved in criminal activities. Uniformity in juvenile laws may not adequately address security matters in all states thus for effective remedies, states must have their own laws. States should enact their own juvenile laws that conform to the values and beliefs of their people.