Jury Trials for Juveniles

Fourteen year-old Philip Chism is on trial for the murder of his math teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Jury Trials for juveniles interesting facts.

As a Massachusetts jury weighs Chism’s insanity defense, his case brings to mind a strange anomaly in our criminal justice system:

juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial under the federal Constitution.

Massachusetts, however, provides jury trials to juveniles by its state legislation. It is one of twenty jurisdictions that provide a jury trial to juveniles under certain circumstances. But isn’t it time to address the issue that juveniles in all fifty states should be entitled to a jury trial as a constitutional right?

After all, a juvenile who is adjudicated as a delinquent may be taken away from his family and friends and forced to reside in a state-sanctioned facility. Isn’t this a form of detention and a restraint on his or her liberty, regardless of whether it is for the purposes of rehabilitation or punishment? The locks to the door of a juvenile detention facility are certainly as restrictive and binding as the bars of an adult jail.

The Constitutional Problem

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions. But the Supreme Court, however, has carefully avoided a “wooden approach” to classifying a juvenile proceeding as a criminal prosecution in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 541 (1971).

But note that the Supreme Court’s previous rulings have already applied key constitutional protections of an Accused in a criminal prosecution to juvenile proceedings. Juveniles, much like adult criminal defendants, possess the right to counsel, the right to confront witnesses, the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to have the elements of the alleged offense proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970).

The presence of these hallmark principles of a criminal trial in juvenile proceedings implies that the same liberty interests are at stake in both venues, and as such, much of the same constitutional protections are necessary. After all, the handcuffs and security bars used to secure juveniles are as cold and metallic as those used in the adult system. Consequently, juveniles should have the same right to a jury trial as a criminal defendant, considering that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel and right to confront witnesses have already been extended to juvenile proceedings.

In Duncan v. Louisiana, Justice White stated that a jury trial is the “inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge.” When your liberty is at stake, a jury trial is one of the most important considerations for your defense. Discuss your options with the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba. We defend against criminal charges in Joliet, Illinois, Will County and Grundy County.

Need Help?

It is critical that all those charged with crimes have their rights respected–particularly juveniles. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge in New Bedford or surrounding communities, be sure to reach out to New Bedford defense attorney Paul Santos. He has years of experience Protecting the rights of community members in Massachusetts. Reach out today to see how we can help.

Paul Santos


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