Age Raising Ethical Questions: The Juvenile Cases


Since the inception of the Juvenile Court System, there has been a clear cut line differentiating this system and the Criminal Court System t. The difference is not only in the terminologies used but also in the type of treatment that is given to young individuals who have been incarcerated. For adults, severe punishment is received and minimal rehabilitation measures are administered. On the other hand, milder forms of punishment are administered for the juveniles’. Nevertheless, the juvenile system has been changing in the recent past to become more like the adult system. This has mainly been instigated by an increment in the number of cases being presented in courts relating to young people. An upsurge in the underage crime rate has forced some of the judges to abandon the juvenile system and work on cases involving young ones as adult trials.

The question that stands out, in this case, is: should the ideals that were established by the founders of the juvenile court system still be upheld, or should the court system at large abandon these ideals and treat everyone alike irrespective of their age? This arises from the fact that prison cells are becoming overcrowded with younger inmates, both male and female. It is important to look deeper into the pressing issue, to maintain some kind of balance in the correctional facilities that are present in the country. This essay gives a brief of the history of the juvenile court system and cases, the age that should separate juveniles and adults, and ethical questions being raised concerning the age situation. An analysis of a case in which a child was tried as an adult and the outcome is also given. Finally, controversial juvenile death penalties are evaluated giving details on the reason for such occurrences.

History of the Juvenile System

In the late 1800s, the system was created as part of the reform agendas that were taking place concerning youth offenders. As time went by, reforms have been upgraded with such agendas as the “rights of youth” taking center stage. These agendas have given possible diversions to the original agendas of the juvenile system making the system to be relatively similar to the adult system. This was not the original intent of the founders.

Before the reforms that occurred in the “Progressive Era”, offenders that were aged as low as seven years of age were subjected to imprisonment with their fellow adult offenders. Nevertheless, in the early 1820s, some of the reformers focused more on rehabilitating the offenders rather than on imprisoning or punishing them (Einstein Law 1). By the end of this century, some of the states in the United States of America took note of the issue of youth incarceration and began digressing from the older thinking pattern into a newer reformist line of thought, that is, rehabilitation of the youth offenders. Many of the youth placed in these facilities happened to be orphans or the young people who had no place they would call home. They, therefore, used this location as a way in which to find a potential place in which to shelter and to get the daily provision of food.

In the 1980s, there was an upsurge in cases that involved juveniles and this went on for at least 15 more years. Its peak occurred in 1994 when juvenile cases increased with a large magnitude such that something had to be done in response to this. As a result, the “get tough” policy was then initiated and its main focus was the rate at which crime was growing. The Delinquency Preventions Act of 1974 was amended to include the youth that was involved in crimes related to weapons and other forms of violence. These amendments were instigated by an upsurge in the number of youth-related crimes which made the juvenile court system highly similar to the adult system. The process of rehabilitation became much less of a concern at the time due to the public’s focus on getting rid of the crime. School shootings and other offensive crimes like hostages were on the rise at the time and the culprits were more often than not younger people. A change would therefore occur on how the court system viewed some of the cases which were presented. Even the different terminologies used, like “being taken into custody” for juveniles and “being arrested” for adults give the same result in today’s system (Shoemaker 46-47).

Age Limit

Currently, there is a lower age limit for people that are considered in the juvenile courts. In a survey that was done, Sickmund observed that youths who are younger than ten years of age are almost impossible to find under juvenile imprisonment. This is therefore regarded as the lower age limit of the juvenile court system. On the other hand, the upper limit is determined by the state. The limit varies from one place to the other. The limit generally depends on many factors that the judiciary feels have to be addressed for a person to be considered either young enough to face juvenile rule of law or old enough to face the adult rule of law. On average, the upper age limit for most states in the United States of America is said to be 17years. It can therefore be said that the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the people that have committed crimes whose age is below 17 years and whose age is above 10 years.

These estimates though are figures that result from a thorough process of survey using case-level data. These estimates, therefore, are generated from the observation of the non-probability experimental samples of the juvenile courts in the county at survey and are then multiplied by the number of cases at a particular time that the county’s judiciary can handle (Sickmund, pp. 53, 54).

Ethical Questions that Arise from Previous Cases

Although the American judiciary has for some time been able to contain the issue about the age at which juveniles should be tried and that in which one is considered an adult, many counties have experienced redundant issues concerning the same. Due to the upsurge explained earlier, the juvenile court system has been seen to work in almost the same functioning as the adult system. Things have turned out so bad that the court system in more ways than one has been found convicting underage criminals in the adult courts, depending on the activities that the youth has been convicted with. Some of the examples given below present ethical controversies that have arisen from some of the rulings of the judiciary involving juvenile age cases.

From understanding the creation of the juvenile court system, the objective of the inventors was not to deal with the apparent nature of the offense that the perpetrator has but with the character that the offender portrays. Some of these minds are young and are simply poisoned in such a way that gives them a form of courage to do some things that are considered as being criminal. The juvenile rehabilitation centers were therefore created to build a child afresh and put the young one under some form of probation. It also involves the school and other social networks and agencies aimed at reshaping a seemingly incorrigible behavior. Treating underage persons as adults is therefore considered to many as inhumane (Kalogerakis 7-8).


  1. Abraham and Brazil, aged 11 and 13 consecutively were convicted of first-degree murder in an adult court, yet the judicial system forbade them to watch a slasher movie without the presence of an adult on sight. The issue here is that when it came to the limit in matters concerned with rating movies, the court had no problem executing judgment using the juvenile system, yet portrays little trust in the same system when it comes to dealing with a murder case.
  2. Another example related to an issue presented by Douglas Thomas presents, whereby his restriction in piercing his body parts without his parent’s permission at the age of 17 presents controversies. However, it was the same courthouse that convicted him of murder.
  3. Teenagers across the nation are every day being subjected to adult treatment in the courtrooms especially when they are being held with criminal offenses, yet the same rule of law puts adolescents under so many restrictions like curfews and parent restrictions (Gottleib 3). Does the major question, therefore, relate to why can’t the same juvenile court be used to try criminal offenses that the young ones commit?
  4. Pennsylvania court finds no limit on the age at which one is supposed to be convicted as an adult. It proved this by finding guilty a boy convicted with two counts of murder. Jordan, aged 12 years, was convicted and imprisoned to life imprisonment. This ruling was made by an adult court (Chen 1).
  5. A 14-year-old boy was also sentenced to life imprisonment for the consequent murder of an eight-year-old boy. Joshua Phillips was sentenced without the possibility of parole in 1998. This was done through an adult appeal court ruling which was affirmed by a second District Appeal Court (Pinkham 1). 19-year-old Malvo skipped the Juvenile court to be charged on 18th December for counts of terrorism and possession of weapons. Because of admitting to taking part in the shooting of an FBI analyst, he was under the rule by an adult court system and was convicted to life imprisonment (Virginia 1).
  6. Rather than moving him to a juvenile court, the judiciary convicted Gregory Wright for the death of his father. Being 14 years of age, he was tried in an adult court and the decision was seconded by Assistant Attorney of the State, Cultin. As a result, the boy was to face 60 years of imprisonment. However, He would have spent 4 years of juvenile rehabilitation instead (Gottlieb 1).

The Juvenile Death Penalty

In concurrence with the international law on human rights, the United States of America has placed a ban on the penalty of death of any persons under the age of 18. As of 2005, the country had a total of 70 individuals (juveniles) on death row. The government unanimously agreed to release them from their imprisonment as a ruling given by the Supreme Court of Law. Nevertheless, five states stood out and executed juvenile convicts outside the US. Some of these countries include Sudan, Pakistan, and Iran amongst others (Bencomo 1). The executions were deliberate due to the measure of the offense committed as per the standing rule of law of the land. The international community maintains its stand that this should be further looked into to curb completely the possibility of juvenile execution in the future.


A balance must be put in place to create justice for all in the process of rehabilitating young people. The bigger task, therefore, lies with the state to ensure that the juvenile court acts in strict measures with offenses such as murder, rape, weapon possession, terrorism, and theft with violence. These kinds of acts should not be taken lightly even in the juvenile courts. They should be handled with the same weight as they are handled in the adult court system. However, the sentences should be focused on reshaping these individuals instead of imprisoning them. This arises from the fact that young minds can always be regrouped and refocused. This makes rehabilitation to be possible. However, this should be approached with a lot of caution.

Works Cited

Bencomo, Clarisa. The Juvenile Death Penalty in International Law. The last holdouts: ending the juvenile death penalty in Iran, Saudi Arabia. Washington DC: Human Rights Watch, 2008. Web.

Chen, Stephanie. Boy, 12, faces grown-up murder charges.” CNN News. Web.

Einstein Law. Progressive Era Reforms. History of America’s Juvenile Justice System. Web.

Gottleib, Rachel. Teen’s Case to Stay In Adult Court. New York: The Hartford Courant. Web.

Kalogerakis, Michael. History of the Juvenile Court. Handbook of psychiatric practice in the juvenile court. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Pub, 2004. Print.

Pinkham, Paul. Court Upholds Life in Prison For Teenager. New Jersey: The Florida Times-Union. 2002. Web.

Shoemaker, Donald. The Contemporary US Justice System. Juvenile justice: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print.

Virginia, Chesapeake. Sniper Malvo was sentenced to life without parole. Washington: Law Center- CNN. Web.

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