Juvenile crime in the United States is a major problem, according to restrictive privacy laws it is impossible to judge the amount of juvenile criminals that become adult criminals. However, by conversing with a selection of veteran police officers across the nation and in Arizona specifically it is possible to see that in many cases the juveniles will indeed continue to commit crimes and become an adult criminal if the crime is not stopped at the juvenile level. The following paper will compare the differences in the juvenile and adult courts as well as the implications of the trend towards increasing the use of waivers or remanding juveniles to adult court for processing in Arizona Juvenile and Adult Court’s. In addition it will be important to address the potential negative effects of abolishing juvenile court.
Defining and comparing Juvenile and Adult courts:
The Arizona Revised Statute or the legal code for Arizona defines juvenile court as the following, “the juvenile division of the superior court when exercising its jurisdiction over children in any proceeding relating to delinquency, dependency or incorrigibility.” (A.R.S. 8-201-18, 2010) The Arizona Revised Statute than defines adult court as, “the appropriate justice court, municipal court or criminal division of the superior court that has jurisdiction to hear proceedings concerning offenses committed by juveniles as provided in sections 8-327 and 13-501.” (A.R.S. 8-201- 4, 2010) The sections listed list in detail the reasons or allowances that would enable a transfer of a juvenile to an adult court. Arizona revised statute 13-501 describes dangerous, felonious crimes ranging from aggravated assault to First Degree murder these are all reasons to try a juvenile in adult court according to Arizona state law. Arizona revised statute 8 – 327 details a transfer hearing, and sets the guidelines legally with which a juvenile may be transferred and after what steps have been followed; specifically each juvenile case potentially being transferred to adult court has their day in court, and the ability to defend the decision made.
The major differences between adult and juvenile court in Arizona are simply the level of crime committed. Dangerous felonies or organized criminal behavior (gang activity) will generally result in the attempt being made to transfer a juvenile to adult court. Juvenile courts in Arizona generally (according to definition) only serve to prosecute status crimes. To compare juvenile court and adult court we can look at the following chart.
Juveniles under 18
Except dangerous felonies
Juveniles over 18
The use of judicial waivers and remand to adult court:
Several types of transfer for youths from juvenile court to adult court, judicial waiver, statutory exclusion, and direct file exist and are utilized. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2010) judicial waiver is the most popular.
“47 States and the District of Columbia provide judicial discretion to waive certain juveniles to criminal court. Thirty-seven States and the District of Columbia have one or more statutory exclusion provisions, and 10 States and the District of Columbia have direct file provisions.” (p.1)
Unfortunately, since 1992 the focus has been to try more juveniles in adult court versus rehabilitating the juveniles in question through juvenile courts. Young and Gainsborough (2000) wrote a paper, in which they said,
“… almost every state has made it easier to try juveniles as adults. Congress provided additional encouragement to this trend in 1998 by making some federal grants contingent on states having policies allowing for the prosecution of those over the age of 14 as adults.” (p. 4)
Using a judicial waiver allows the juvenile court judge to pass the case over to the subsequent federal or state adult court. This is normally done after the judge conducts a hearing that establishes if the juvenile can be treated or if the juvenile is a “threat to society.” The use of judicial waivers are often governed by the state or federal legislative body, unfortunately, this means that at times the law is based on a presumption that may not have a factual basis. In many cases regardless of current condition a juvenile may be rehabilitated much easier than the initial hearing will determine. Unfortunately, the law may not allow additional chances at showing if the case, which in turn means the juvenile, may end in adult court when the juveniles could have been treated through juvenile court decisions.
The potential negative effect of abolishing juvenile courts:
Juvenile courts are necessary when dealing with juveniles under the age of 18, which in Arizona is the legally defined age that differentiates between a juvenile and adult. Juvenile court judges and other officers of the court are better equipped with a wide array of tools to deal with juvenile criminals. Better treatment and rehabilitation focused options are available to these courts because they are specifically designed to deal with juvenile offenders. If juvenile courts were to be abolished it would create a negative effect based on the simple fact that adult courts are not specifically designed to deal with juvenile offenders. This means that instead of potentially rehabilitating many of the juvenile offenders we would in fact be assisting in their recidivism by prosecuting and imprisoning them with hardened adult offenders.
These drastic changes would affect society by creating new generations of hardened offenders that would simply bring crime to a new level. Within the criminal justice system it is generally accepted that incarceration does not necessarily enforce the idea of change, and in many cases recidivism is quite high. “…the imposition of adult punishments, far from deterring crime, actually increases the likelihood that a young person will commit further criminal offenses”. (Juvenile Transfers, 2010, p.10)
The idea of juvenile justice courts is a solid one; however, it is entirely possible that the current approach is not beneficial. Pushing juvenile courts to refer cases to adult courts may in fact be increasing future crime. With decisions regarding juvenile justice there should be reliable data to support those made. Unfortunately, in many cases juvenile records are sealed thereby precluding the ability to gain complete information. It may be necessary to lift the restrictions on the use of these records simply to provide a system better equipped to reduce juvenile related crime and recidivism. Other possible approaches would include better counseling, or available psychological services specifically trained to gauge a juvenile’s ability, intent, and possible mindset. As with everything there is a point it becomes necessary to simply say, “Enough” and do what it will take to fix a situation. However, in the case of juvenile justice and the related court waivers, transfers and approaches to prosecution we would be better of as a society to approach it using every available avenue of information before making a decision of this magnitude.
A.R.S. 8-201- 4,. (2010, January). 8-201-18 definitions Arizona revised statutes.
Retrieved from http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ars/8/00201.htm
A.R.S. 8-201-18,. (2010, January). 8-201-18 definitions Arizona revised statutes.
Retrieved from http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ars/8/00201.htm
Juvenile Transfers, . (2010, ). Office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.
Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/pubs/reform/ch2_j.html#235
Young, Gainsborough, M, J. (2000).
Prosecuting juveniles in adult court an assessment of trends and consequences. The Sentencing Project, Retrieved from http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/sp/juvenile.pdf