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The law has long defined a line between juvenile and adult offenders, but that line has changed over the years and has been drawn at different places, for different reasons. The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest known sets of written laws that established crime and punishment for a juvenile. In the code Hammurabi established rules specifically for children who disobeyed their parents. Rule 195 stated "If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be cut off" (King, 2008). The Code also established a special set of rules for adopted children rule 192 stated "if an adopted child says to his father or mother "You are not my father or my mother, the child's penalty will be to have is tongue cut out" (King, 2008). Rule 193 added if an adopted son returned to his biological parents then his eyes would be plucked out. (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi, 2010, p. 10)
Historically juveniles before the 16th century were thought to or viewed as either property or as diminutive adults who were expected to assume the responsibilities of adults and were subject to the same criminal sanctions as adults. These attitudes changed in the late 16th century and early 17th centuries. Children were viewed as corruptible but worth correcting. In 1760 an English lawyer William Blackstone wrote the Commentaries on the Laws of England, this was widely read and admired in the American colonies because they heavily influenced by the common law of England. Blackstone believed that there were some people that were incapable of committing a crime and in order for accountability of that crime there were two things needed to be proven: intent to commit the crime and that a crime had been committed. Blackstone's belief was that children were too young to form intent and could not understand that were consequences to their actions. A line was drawn at what age a child was considered capable of committing a crime. "Children under the age of seven were as a rule classified as infants who could not be guilty of a felony. Children over the age of 14 were liable to suffer as adults if found guilty of a crime. Between the ages of seven and fourteen was a gray zone. A child in this age range would be presumed incapable of crime. If, however, it appeared that the child understood the difference between right and wrong, the child could be convicted and suffer the full consequences of the crime" (American Bar Association).
In 1817 the upper class society of New York became concerned with the moral attitudes of society and formed the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. They were concerned that the moral training of children of the dangerous class was inadequate (Siegel & Welsch, 2008, p. 261). Soon after this group formed more groups developed and began to focus on the plight of children they became known as the Child Savers. Their focus was to broaden governmental control over delinquents acts committed by children and influenced state legislatures to enact laws that gave the courts more control over unruly juvenile. Their purpose was to have these children committed into a reformatory facility. In 1825 the House of Refuge was opened in New York. Delinquent juveniles were placed in these homes by court order despite parental objection. The child savers moved for the courts to obtain control over the children and protect them. Basically their belief was that the state was to serve as guardian or as the parental role of the juvenile. This idea was based on the legal doctrine "parens patriae" that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf.
The movement propelled the state to recognize a need for a more uniformed system and in 1899 the first juvenile court in the United States was established in Cook County, Illinois. The main goal of the court was to rehabilitate rather than punish offenders and juveniles were not to be treated as adults. Disposition of cases based on the analysis of the juveniles needs. The courts main goal was to take the role of the parent and protect the best interest of the child. Eventually other states began to follow suit and juvenile courts were established. The desire of these courts was to rehabilitate the offender and guide them into becoming productive law abiding citizens. Although there were procedural rules the courts followed mostly they practiced a non-adversarial and informal approach to the proceeding. Cases were treated as civil matters instead of criminal, but did not hesitate to sentence a juvenile to a reform school as part of their "rehabilitation."
The 1960's brought on many changes to the juvenile court system. New York established a family court system. "The new court assumed responsibility for all matters involving family life, with emphasis on delinquent and neglected children" (Siegel & Welsch, 2008, p. 267). In addition reforms to categorized juveniles needs were established. Program such as Person in need of supervision (PINS) and Children in need of supervision (CHINS) were part of this reform. In addition to these changes in the system the Supreme Court made radical changes to the juvenile court system with landmark rulings. In 1966 the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Kent v. United States and its decision questioned whether the juvenile court had the proper staff, funding and facilities to effectively provide juveniles with the services they needed when charged with a criminal offense. Further changes occurred within the court system with the ruling of In re Gault. The ruling in Gault brought major changes to the court on how juvenile cases were processed. In their dissenting opinion Justice Fortas wrote "neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone" (United States Supreme Court, 1967). Gault gave juveniles the same due process as adults and stated that they were entitled to:
Notice of the charges against them.
A right to legal counsel.
The right against self-incrimination.
The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.
The decision did not come without controversy Justice Stewart noted that moving the juvenile system from civil to criminal proceedings was "inviting a long step backwards into the nineteenth century" (United States Supreme Court, 1967). The trend towards extending the due processes rights to juveniles continued with rulings such as In re Winship that established preponderance of evidence rule. However in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania the court ruled that juveniles were not entitled to a jury trial. The court feared that basically the lines would blur between a juvenile and criminal proceedings and no distinction would be made.
The juvenile court system has undertaken some significant changes since its inception. The court now works under two separate distinctions the juvenile delinquent and the status offender. The goal of the court has always been to rehabilitate juveniles versus punishing them. Except I do not think that the court was prepared to deal with the new generation of juveniles and the extent that they will go to achieve what they consider is the answer to their form of justice. The court should continue to take on the role of the parent and do what is right for the juvenile and make the decision as to whether a juvenile can be rehabilitated in a state system or whether the decision is left to the adult courts. Like any parent there are times when decisions are made that are not favorable but they are made in the best interest of the child.