As the line between adulthood crimes and youthful indiscretion blurs, there are reasonable arguments on both sides for whether or not juveniles should have a right to jury trials in delinquency proceedings, notes Bradley Thomas Giordano.
The US Constitution provides that all accused adult criminals are afforded the civil right of an expedient trial by jury. This protection is set forth in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, Bradley Thomas Giordano points out that juvenile offenders are not typically afforded the same treatment, and are instead given the equivalent of a bench trial in front of a juvenile court judge.
What some describe as unequal treatment started in the early days of juvenile court proceedings. Juvenile courts were originally conceived to operate very differently from their adult criminal court counterparts. Specifically, there was an absence of strict procedural formalities which was meant to allow law enforcement to focus on behavior modification rather than harsh punishments. Additionally, there was an assumption that juvenile judges would be more understanding and compassionate than the public in determining consequences for minors.
The vast majority of state courts do not provide jury trials for minors. Proponents of this approach typically submit three primary arguments in favor this position. First, there is concern over a scarcity of judicial resources necessary to provide jury trials for alleged juvenile offenders. Second, many fear a formal adversary process would undermine the rehabilitative nature of juvenile proceedings. Finally, such proponents believe teens will be judged with more compassion by an experienced judge rather than a group of adults.
Opponents claim a belief that young offenders should be given the choice of whether or not they want a jury trial. This group argues that a lack of resources is an inadequate excuse to deny due process, regardless of the age of the offender, according to Bradley Thomas Giordano. Supporters suspect that municipal expenses incurred as a result of juvenile trials will not be as great as suggested. They also argue that the line between juvenile punishment and criminal convictions has become blurred in recent years, and that some minor offenders are deserving of adult process protections.
There are, according to Bradley Thomas Giordano, strong considerations from both sides of this issue. One potential compromise position would give juvenile defendants the right to a jury trial where incarceration is pursued as a means of prosecution. Providing jury trials in these circumstances would provide adult protections when adult punishments are sought, and should provide incentives for prosecutors to pursue more rehabilitative consequences in delinquency proceedings.