Bradley Thomas Giordano | Access to Jury Trials

Adults and children have historically been held to different standards where criminal offenses are concerned, reports Bradley Thomas Giordano.  However, the juvenile court system has faced increased controversy over whether minor offenders should be offered the same protections as adults in cases where detention is the preferred manner of punishment.

September 28, 2015 – CHICAGO, Illinois – The issue of whether jury trials should be provided for juvenile delinquency proceedings has been the topic of many conversations over the last decade.  Minors – those under the age of 18 – are typically referred to the juvenile court system.  This system, which was originally developed to promote rehabilitation above incarceration, is designed to forgo trial by jury and allow an experienced judge to determine the offender’s punishment, says Bradley Thomas Giordano.

According to Bradley Thomas Giordano, the majority of states as well as the federal court system subscribe to the view that trials are usually not necessary in juvenile cases.  This reasoning stems from a 1971 Supreme Court ruling which held that minors were not entitled to a trial by jury.  Supporters of the McKeiver v. Pennsylvania decision often argue that allowing trials for juvenile offenders will backlog an already strained judicial docket.  Additionally, such supporters often submit that forgoing trials preserves the rehabilitative nature of juvenile court proceedings.  This argument is grounded in the premise that experienced judges are more likely to treat children with compassion than the general adult population.

Bradley Thomas Giordano notes that those who oppose the McKeiver decision maintain that a right to jury trial should be an option that can only be waived by the informed and explicit consent of the juvenile.  Eleven states have amended their constitutions or statutes to reflect this view.

McKeiver opponents submit that a lack of resources is not a justifiable reason to imperil an individual’s liberty interest without due process.  Moreover, Bradley Thomas Giordano points out that in recent years, the lines between criminal convictions and delinquency determinations has been blurred.  Indeed, many states allow juvenile delinquency determinations to be used in the sentencing phases of adult criminal convictions. Consequently, most of the major distinctions between adult and juvenile proceedings have disappeared, carrying with them most of the arguments for upholding McKeiver.  Additionally, Bradley Thomas Giordano notes, a vast majority of McKeiver opponents view juvenile court judges as more likely to be jaded and less compassionate than individuals who are not consistently exposed to juvenile delinquency proceedings..

Bradley Thomas Giordano suggests that a compromise position between the two sides may be to award juveniles the right to a jury trial only when the prosecution insists on incarceration in a criminal facility as punishment.  In these cases, Bradley Thomas Giordano believes that a waiver should only be issued if the juvenile or his or her representatives expressly agree.  Requiring incarceration as a qualifier is a vital concession for numerous reasons, states Bradley Thomas Giordano.  Perhaps most of all, it should foster an environment of moderation and discretion on the part of the prosecutors.