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Juvenile And Adult Courts: A Comparative Analysis

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Juvenile courts and adults’ courts are similar in the structural system but different in ideas. The ideas vary because of their purposes and goals in each court. Chapter four of the juvenile justice system describes that a juvenile can decide to commit a crime because of his own choice or due to the environment he lives. Juvenile courts were established to deter delinquencies from engaging in more crimes. The U.S Supreme Court decided that children were guilty of their actions, and therefore they could not be tried in adult criminal courts.

In the case McKeiver V. Pennsylvania of 1971, the United States Supreme Court decided that juveniles can access a jury trial only if they relate to the adult court system. The case involved a 16-year-old who was charged with larceny charges (FindLaw, n.d.). The attorney of the boy had requested a jury trial but, because the case was not bound over the adult system, it was retained in the juvenile system. The Supreme Court agreed with the state court decision. The judge said that a jury trial would only ruin the character and the formation of the juvenile proceedings. He added that the jury trials in the juvenile courts would only affect the clause of the 14th amendment of the constitution.

If the juvenile was an adult and tried in an adult court, the Supreme Court could have ruled that the accused had the right to a jury trial. Each person charged with a misdemeanor offense has the right to a jury trial for a fact-finding. The outcomes of McKeiver could be different if he were tried in the adult courts. He could have been given the right to a jury trial. If the jury finds him guilty of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt, he could go to prison.

The first juvenile court was established in Chicago, Illinois. The court has undergone some changes since then. The process of the court involved the conversation between the judge and the youth. 'The original theory behind separating juvenile offenders from adult offenders was to provide care and direction for youngsters instead of isolation and punishment' (Meng et al., 2013). Therefore, it is believed that children are not fully mature, either mentally or physically; they cannot really be held accountable for their crimes such as adults are. During Roman times, juveniles were disciplined by their parents depending on their age and the extent of the crime. In 1825, a society called Prevention of Pauperism opened the first house of refugees, and by 1828, similar organizations followed (Meng et al., 2013). With these past practices during Roman times, it influenced the way the juvenile justice system is setup.

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When a juvenile is arrested, a decision is made based on the extent of the crime. the court decides whether to send the matter further into the system or transfer the case out of the system (alternative programs). The law enforcement officer decides some of the cases after talking to the parties involved. The juvenile system was specifically designed for the children since they are not entirely responsible for some of their actions. The juvenile offenses are referred to as 'status offenses.' Such offenses that fall under this category are 'runaway behavior, truancy, unruly behavior, and curfew violation' (Champion et al., 2013). These are just some known examples.

'Juvenile courts are civil proceedings designed for juveniles, whereas criminal courts are proceedings designed to try adults charged with crimes' (Champion et al., 2013). With that in mind, there are several key differences between both courts. First, in a juvenile court, juveniles are not found guilty or not guilty, whereas adults are in an adult court. Juveniles do not obtain a criminal record. The second key difference is the proceedings. In a juvenile court, they are informal, whereas, in an adult court, they are formal.

Moreover, cases are sometimes held in a judge's chamber, and judges tend to 'address juveniles directly and casually' (Champion et al., 2013). For an adult, cases are held in the courtroom. The third difference is trial by jury. Adults are entitled to a trial by jury, whereas juveniles are not. The fourth key difference is a representation by counsel. In an adult court, adults are obligated to be represented by counsel, whereas juveniles have the option to opt-out. A fifth difference is the courts of records. In a juvenile court, written records of court proceedings are not kept. In other words, they are not courting of records like an adult court is. In an adult court, everything is scripted and transcribed, and a court reporter is presented. For a judge in a juvenile court to request a court reporter to be present in a juvenile case, it all 'depends on the specific jurisdiction' (Champion et al., 2013). In adult court, the standard of proof is utilized, whereas, in juvenile court, the preponderance of the evidence is used. Lastly, the range of penalties differs. In an adult court, a penalty could extend to life with no parole or penalty of death, whereas, in a juvenile court, it is limited. With these differences, the champion noted that in an adult court system, “criminal court actions are more serious and have harsher long-term consequences for offenders compared with juvenile court proceedings.'

Certain factors followed during the transferring of a youth being tried as an adult, such as; how violent was the crime, any aggravating circumstances, and are they a danger to the community. It is a substantial choice transferring an adolescent offender to an adult prison. The possibility of moving youth to an adult prison could more than likely expose them to the possibility of harsher punishment, therefore exposing them to the possibility of 'physical, sexual, and psychological victimization by other inmates'(Mulvey & Schulbert, 2012). The juvenile court system focuses on rehabilitating the juvenile. However, based on the extent of the crime or if the juvenile is a repetitive offender, the juvenile court may petition to transfer to an adult court. The decision to move youth to an adult court exposes the juvenile to waive their protective rights.

Even though there are differences, there are some similarities in regard to their structures, yet differences are apparent. For example, in both courts, the individual must be proven guilty before being sentenced in any way. All in all, juvenile and adult court systems differ. Juvenile courts are mostly based on a rehabilitation model, whereas adult courts are not. Adult courts are harsh and more of a punishing model Overall, both courts aim in assuring that any individual, whether it is a juvenile or an adult, who has a court proceeding, adhere to all laws.


  1. Champion, D. J., Merlo, A. V., Benekos, P. J., & (2013). The juvenile justice system: Delinquency, processing, and the law (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
  2. FindLaw, (n.d.). United States Supreme Court. McKEIVER v. PENNSYLVANIA (1971) No. 322. Retrieved from
  3. Making. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 25(3), 275-278. doi:
  4. Meng, A., Segal, R., & Boden, E. (2013). American juvenile justice system: History in the
  5. Merlo, A. V., Benekos, P. J., Champion, D. J. The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law. [University of Phoenix]. Retrieved from
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Juvenile And Adult Courts: A Comparative Analysis. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
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