This paper will discuss the juvenile justice system in the United States. This paper will use a fictional “brother” as a scenario to help explain how the juvenile justice system works. It will also discuss ten “steps”, or sections, of all the intersecting aspects juvenile face in the justice system. It will focus on the history of robbery, many schools of criminal thought, landmark juvenile court cases, and how a minor goes through the juvenile court system.
For starters, my brothers crime will help establish and explain how robbery works in the juvenile justice system. My brother, age 17, was walking down a street in Newark at night. Our family has been struggling financially for awhile, but this night was different. My brother just got laid off from his job, putting our livelihood in danger. My brothers dream was to be able to help our family move out of our dangerous neighborhood and get a house in the suburbs. My brother was not the only one to get laid off either, many of his co-workers who live in our tight grouped neighborhood lost their jobs as well. My brother had to act fast so we could still have a roof under our head. As he was walking home one night, with rent being due on his mind, he was getting very nervous and scared on what will happen next for our family. After hearing stories from his former co-worker friends about how they had to steal and rob just to survive, my brother started to think on it. With no other option to get money fast, he results to stealing. He camps out a dark alleyway by our house, in hopes that some stranger will cross his path. Finally, it happens. He immediately jumps into action, grabbing the unsuspecting stranger and yelling “Give me your wallet or I am going to hurt you”. The stranger, afraid for his life, gives my brother his wallet. My brother grabbed the wallet full of cash, which he later found out was worth $500 in cash, and ran from the scene, not leaving a trace. After he came running home that fateful evening, with a frantic look on his face, My mother and I knew something was wrong. With rent being paid and we had no source of income at the moment, we raised concerns on how that was possible. The very next day I confronted my brother about what happened that night. He told me the truth about the incident, and I told him he has to turn himself in. That very same day, my brother walked into the Newark Police Station and told them everything what happened. My brother has never committed a crime before this day. What he just committed was a robbery.
Robbery is defined as “the taking of, or the attempting to take, anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force, or threat of force or violence, or by putting the victim in fear”(Findlaw). Many people began to use the term robbery incorrectly when describing the crime. This is due to how many different types of crime there are about stealing: Larceny, Grand Theft, Burglary, and many more. Robbery siverities are also vast, some include whether the perpetrator was armed, if injury was inflicted on the victim, and the quantity of the money/items taken. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, OJJDP, “the juvenile arrest rate for robbery declined substantially after its mid-1990s peak, falling 72% from 1994 through 2018” (Rate Trends). In 1994 was an all time high for underage kids committing robbery, 183.5 robberies committed for every 100,000 kids between the ages of 10-17. While the recent data suggests that it has fallen to 51.7 kids per 100,000 committing the criminal act. This database provided by OJJDP also breaks down the perpetrators into sex and race. The most common gender, by far, are males. In 1994, 324.6 males between the ages of 10-17 per 100,000 kids committed robbery (Ibid.). During the same year, only 34.5 females committed the act. In 2018, the number of both sides have dropped considerably. Males only accounted for 89.8 robberies and 12 robberies were committed by females. Also, according to the same source, the most common race of the perpetrator is either African-American and/or Hispanic. In 1994, 727.4 and 568.2 robberies were committed, respectively (Ibid.). Overall, the most common juvenile committing robbery would be an African-American male between the ages of 10-17. While my brother is a male and in this age range, he is caucasian, which account for 13% (Ibid.) of all juvenile robbery cases. As reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 23% of all robberies result in the victim being harmed and 37% result in the robber getting away with nothing (Harlow). As for gender, age and ethnicity, the victim is usually a single white male in mid twenties.
The history of robbery goes all the way back to the Romans and Greeks (JRank). While robbery back then was not necessarily its own crime, but combined under theft. Theft in these times include, but not limited to, acts such as larceny, burglary, and many other acts involving stealing one’s possession (Ibid.). However, the United States justice system was heavily influenced by British Law. Under British law in the early 15th century, robbery was “was punishable by death or mutilation” (Ibid.). This practice was in place up until the mid 19th century, when the last execution “for simple robbery took place in 1836”(Ibid.). Similarly, in the United States, robbery was a felony punishable by death from its founding all the way up to as late as the early 1960s. In the 1960’s, Ten states made some forms of robbery a capital offense, “as twenty-four people were executed for robbery offenses between 1930 and 1962” (Ibid.). While the landmark case of Roper v. Simmons in 2005 made executing juveniles unconstitutional, prior to this a total of 226 juveniles had been executed between 1973-2004 (JJIE). The youngest juvenile ever executed in the United States was a Cherokee Native named James Arcene (Ibid.). James was “hanged in Arkansas in 1885 for a murder-robbery he helped commit when he was 10 [years old]” (Ibid.). Now a days, robbery, without a weapon, varies depending on how much the perpetrator stole and what state the act was committed. The usual sentencing for juveniles for unarmed robbery with no previous criminal record, like my brother, could be sentenced between one and three years in prison (Ibid.).
Many schools of thought come into play when it comes to juvenile delinquency. For starters, one major school of thought is the classical theory. Created by Cesare de Beccaria, classical theory refers to a crime is committed after a person considers the pros and cons. It focuses on how the decisions criminals, in this case juveniles, commit a crime. In this school of thought, it is told that those who commit crimes do so because of either greed or personal gain. My brother can easily fall in this category because of the need of that $500 to pay the bills. While not accessing the pros and cons correctly, $500 for 1-3 years in prison does not seem like the best idea, he did so for personal need. Another school of thought is biological theory. This theory, derived from Cesare Lombroso, encompasses the idea that biology is a major factor when it comes to people committing crimes. For instance, this theory may suggest that because my brothers head is a certain shape, or that he has hazel eyes compared to blue, or even a certain gene in his DNA was responsible for his actions in that alley way.
Another category theory diving deep into the psyche of criminals psychological theories. In this area of thought contain two main theories: psychoanalytic and social theory. Psychoanalytic theory dives deep into the psyche of the criminal, especially on their personality (Psychoanalytic). One famous contributor to this theory is Sigmund Freud. Freud looked at the psyche of the brain, and determined that the id, ego, and superego impacted how criminals are formed (Ibid.).
Social learning theory focuses on trauma criminals may have faced in their childhood. This theory encompasses everything to do with child development and factors influencing whether one conforms to or deviates from societal rules are those experiences while they’re young and still developing. It also has to do with learning from others, such as ones parents. While this theory could also be applied to my brother because of the economic hardships our family faced in the dangerous parts of Newark. This would affect my brother if he experienced any mental trauma at a young age, which he never truly never had a specific instance of trauma, the gloomy environment of criminals all around may have played a part in why he did what he did.
Original jurisdiction is defined as the authority that hears a case through to its conclusion. This can comprise of geographical or any specific court. One important aspect of this matter is when appeals are put in place. For instance, “ If the matter needs to be appealed, or if certain other questions come up that must be decided by a higher court, the case is then taken to a different jurisdiction” (Ibid.). When this happens, it usually falls to an appellate court, where the case achieves it ruling. Courts are divided up in many different fashions, such as state, county, districts, circuits, and many more. Courts are organized like this in order to address many aspects of cases, such as if the case is criminal or tort, and if it is criminal, the severity of the crime (Ibid.). Courts also have the power to act on the minors behalf. This is referred to as Parens Patriae.
There are many landmark cases that influenced how the juvenile court system works in the United States. The aforementioned court case of Roper v. Simmons was a major win for juveniles around the country. The case made the execution of minors unconstitutional due to the 8th amendment, no cruel or unusual punishment (Roper). Another case that helped to give more rights to juveniles was Re Gault (1967). This gave several rights to juvenile offenders, such as the right to counsel, cross examine witnesses, notice of charges, and several more. Lastly, Re Winship (1970) set the precedent in juvenile criminal cases from preponderance of evidence, to beyond a reasonable doubt (Howell). While this case does not really affect my brother, since he turned himself in and is going to plead guilty, it still is an influential case for minors.
Officers of the law are given a certain amount of leeway when it comes to policing. This is referred to as police discretion. This is influenced by many outside factors such as race, age, gender of both the perpetrator and the officer (Study). Examples of discretion and decision making for officers include, but are not limited to, whether the officer performs a search and if they issue a traffic ticket to someone. Since my brother turned himself in, police discretion is not even available due to the fact that the officers had no choice but to process him.
Legal factors are facts about the offense being charged (Howell). This includes the evidence, the severity of the crime among other things. Age of juvenile is considered a legal factor for certain types of offenses as well (Ibid.). In the state of New Jersey, what my brother committed was a first degree crime, due to the fact that he threatened the victim (Ibid.). There were no weapons involved in my brothers crime, except the threat of my brother using his fists. The eyewitness account would be, of course, the victim who’s wallet got stolen. A factor that would help my brother is the fact that he has no prior criminal past, so the court will look at him without a predisposition about my brother.
Compared to officers, the prosecutors have more responsibility, and discretion. As stated before, juvenile court systems used to base whether an offender is guilty or not on preponderance of evidence before Re Winship. Before then, judges can easily incarcerate the offender The ruling in this case sensitized prosecutors to be more careful and discriminating when charging juveniles with certain offenses. This and other cases help transition juvenile court cases to be more and more like adult justice systems (Howell). While this is still not fully the case, for instance, juveniles do not have a 6th amendment right, the right to a speedy trial. This is mainly do to the aforementioned Parens Patriae doctrine (Ibid.).
One route an offender will be taken through the juvenile court system is being charged in adult court. However, that is determined mostly on the severity of the crime and the offender’s history. With no criminal history and the fact that he did not cause physical harm to the victim, it is highly unlikely he would be charged as an adult. Usual crimes that get juveniles charged as an adult are armed robbery with a deadly weapon, murder and other serious violent crimes.
Waiver of counsel is also about waiving a right to trial. . My brother would most definitely take this route due to the fact that it is still a serious offense, and that he turned himself over to the authorities. A plea bargain would be the only possible way to receive a lower sentence. Even though my brother was a first time offender, he was well aware of the consequences that came to the criminal act. There are several types of waivers available to the offenders. For starters, one type of waiver is automatic. Automatic waivers occur automatically based on the juveniles age and type of defense. This type of waiver leaves little in the means of discretion for the state. Another one is Judicial waiver. This waiver gives the judge the ability to waive jurisdiction. Judicial waivers can be categorized in three different means: discretionary, mandatory, and presumptive (Ibid.). Discretionary waivers give the judge power to use discretion in “determining to waive the case of retain jurisdiction” (Ibid.). Mandatory waivers make the judge waive jurisdiction to the criminal court. The judge can do this when there is enough evidence to prove the offender did do the crime. This would most likely happen in my brothers case, due to the fact my brother turned himself in, with the victims wallet in hand, that is more than enough evidence to allow a mandatory waiver to happen. Lastly, presumptive waiver make the burden of proof shift from the state to the minor (Ibid.). This is the most subjective of the three because the minor has to prove if they can be rehabilitated or not.
The Juvenile system has alternatives to prison/jail time and fines. One such alternative are community based. These would most likely not be available towards my brother do to the severity of his actions. Community based alternatives try to rehabilitate offenders who have violated the law to a lesser degree. For instance, a underage minor who is charged with consumption of alcohol would be sentenced to alcoholics anonymous classes instead of jail time. These programs not only lessen the amount of juveniles in jail, but help teach minors about important lessons along the way.
Juvenile justice system has the same four goals as the adult system. For starters, deterrence tries to stop future want to be criminals to do the act. If laws, and the punishments that follow if they are broken, are strict enough, minors may not want to do the action. Such as in the classical theory, but this time the cons outweigh the pros. While this did not work against my brother, his pros were special in the essence that it was either he stole the cash, or we would get evicted, there was little to deter him from doing this. Secondly, rehabilitation is necessary in order to bring the offender back into society. If done correctly, the criminal will not break the law again, but will be a functional member of their community. While this isn’t necessary for my brother compared to other offenders, the court system might deem that some type of rehabilitation is needed in order for him to leave his sentence. Third, retribution encompasses the act of punishing the offender. Without this, more people would break the law because there is no punishment. This goal is to make sure that the criminal pays for the actions they have committed. Lastly, incapacitation is needed so that criminals are away from society, especially needed for violent and frequent criminals, unlike my brother. The juvenile justice system provides two types of confinements for convicted offenders: non-secure and secure. Non-secure confinements place the minor in more rehabilitation environments such as halfway houses, foster homes, wilderness projects, etc. Secure confinement, however, leans more towards retribution and deterrence side of the spectrum. These types of confinements are harsher than those of non-secure. Some examples of secure confinement are boot camps and training schools. Secure confinement is more used as a last resort, if the minor is violent or other reasons. Juvenile aftercare help youth who have been incarcerated be placed in residential care. These programs allow for a smoother transition from the jail life back into society. Juvenile detention centers are centers that provide educational programs, counseling, recreational programs and many other things that allow the offender to easy back into society and away from their criminal behavior (Ibid.).
Overall, while the juvenile criminal justice system does not grant the offender as much rights as an offender in adult court, juvenile justice system focuses more on the mental health of the child and emphasises the rehabilitation of the offender. It focuses on how to ease the young criminal back into society the best possible way, by providing an environment to erase all the anger and violence out of them while still providing guidance back into their community. As for my brother, it is nearly impossible for him to miss out on jail time, which is a shame but necessary punishment for his actions. With a good plea bargain and his non existent criminal record, and the fact that he turned himself in all can at least help him get a reduced sentence.
- Harlow, Caroline Wolf. “Robbery Victims.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, https://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rv.pdf.
- Howell, Amy. “ROLE OF DEFENSE COUNSEL IN JUVENILE DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS.” Defense Delivery Systems , http://www.ncids.org/JuvenileDefender/Role/Role Statement.pdf.
- “Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends.” Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends, https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/JAR_Display.asp?ID=qa05263&selOffenses=4.
- Linn, Amy. “History of Death Penalty for Juvenile Offenders.” JJIE, 16 Feb. 2016, https://jjie.org/2016/02/13/history-of-death-penalty-for-juvenile-offenders/.
- Roper v. Simmons. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.oyez.org/cases/2004/03-633.
- “New Jersey Robbery Laws.” Findlaw, https://statelaws.findlaw.com/new-jersey-law/new-jersey-robbery-laws.html.
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- “Psychoanalytic Theory & Approaches.” Psychoanalytic Theory & Approaches | APsaA, https://apsa.org/content/psychoanalytic-theory-approaches.
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