Juvenile Justice Reform Essay

This essay has a total of 2928 words and 15 pages.

Juvenile Justice Reform

THESIS STATEMENT: The Great and General Court of Massachusetts has erred
in reforming the juvenile justice system by implementing policies and
procedures that will harm juveniles and place society at risk.

On July 23, 1995, an intruder brutally attacked and stabbed Janet
Downing approximately 100 times in her Somerville home. The revolting
Downing murder and ensuing arrest of Edward O'Brien Jr., a 15-year-old
juvenile whom prosecutors say committed the heinous crime, sent
shockwaves through the state. When Somerville District Court Judge Paul
P. Hefferman ruled that the Commonwealth try Mr. O'Brien as a juvenile,
those shockwaves grew in intensity, and the citizens of Massachusetts,
fed up with increasing youth violence and perceptions of an ineffective
juvenile justice system, demanded the enactment of tough new laws to
deal with repeat and violent juvenile offenders. The Great and General
Court of Massachusetts headed these demands for reform of the juvenile
justice system and enacted legislation that, among other things,
abolishes the trial de novo system in the juvenile courts, requires the
trial of juveniles charged with murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape,
forcible rape of a child, kidnaping, assault with intent to rob or
murder and armed burglary in adult court and permits prosecutors to open
to the public juvenile proceedings when they seek an adult sentence.
Although proponents tout these measures as a sagacious solution for the
vexatious problem of juvenile delinquency, abolishing the trial de novo
system, providing for automatic adult trials and opening juvenile
proceedings to the public when prosecutors seek an adult sentence works
to the detriment, not the benefit, of juveniles and society. Therefore,
the policy makers of Massachusetts should repeal most sections of the
Juvenile Justice Reform Act and develop other policies to deal with the
rising problem of juvenile crime.

I. A SINGLE TRIAL SYSTEM PREVENTS COURTS FROM PROVIDING RAPID ASSISTANCE
TO JUVENILES IN NEED, DOES LITTLE TO SERVE JUDICIAL ECONOMY AND PLACES A
SIMILAR BURDEN AS THE DE NOVO SYSTEM ON VICTIMS AND WITNESSES.

Proponents of a single trial system for juveniles argue that the trial
de novo system wastes judicial resources by giving defendants a second
bite at the apple and traumatizes victims and witnesses by forcing them
to testify at two proceedings. However, these proponents fail to
acknowledge that the de novo system allows judges to quickly provide
juveniles with the rehabilitative help they need. The proponents,
unsurprisingly, also fail to acknowledge that a single trial system may
place a greater burden on judicial resources and a similar burden on
victims and witnesses.
The de novo system benefits juveniles by encouraging bench trials,
which frequently result in the swift administration of rehabilitative
help. For many juveniles, delinquency is a reaction to a variety of
situational stressors. Statistics indicate that the vast majority of
juvenile delinquents are exposed to abuse and neglect, harsh or erratic
parenting, and socioeconomic deprivation. Experts believe that if the
juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles and make them
productive members of our society, it must address these problems as
swiftly as possible. A de novo system encourages juveniles, many of
whom want judicial help, to request a bench trial. Likewise, under a de
novo system, defense attorneys are encouraged to recommend an initial
bench trial because the court's decision does not bind clients if it is
not in their interest. On the other hand, a single trial system
discourages juveniles and defense attorneys from requesting a bench
trial. Because jury trials are more lengthy than bench trials and may
drag out for over a year, the current policy of encouraging juveniles to
seek an initial jury trial denies them the rehabilitative help they need
for a significant period of time. Therefore, the de novo system is the
preferred choice when dealing with juveniles because it encourages bench
trials and, concomitantly, the swift administration of rehabilitative
help.
As noted earlier, one of the primary arguments for doing away with the
de novo system is that it wastes judicial resources. However, upon
closer examination one realizes that the de novo system actually
furthers judicial economy. Under a de novo system, procedural
safeguards can be done away with or relaxed at bench trials without fear
of violating rights of defendants. Courts have found the elimination of
procedural safeguards at bench trials in a de novo system to be
constitutional because the judiciary will extend all safeguards to the
defendant at a new jury trial if he/she so chooses. Although no
statistics could be found which indicate the number of defendants
appealing de novo bench trial decision, a court employee estimates that
it was around 3%. Thus, 97% of juvenile cases were disposed of through
bench trials, which are less costly and time consuming than jury
trials. While 3% of the cases resulted in two proceedings, the value
obtained from bench trials appears to significantly outweigh the costs
incurred by appeals. Therefore, the de novo system may actually further
judicial economy more than a single trial system.
The other primary argument for a single trial system is that making
victims and witnesses testify at two trials is unfair. The 3% estimate
that the de novo system requires that victims and witnesses testify at
two trials very infrequently. Furthermore, replacing the de novo system
will not eliminate the need for requiring some victims and witnesses to
testify at two trials. Appellate courts have the power to reverse a
trial court's decision and order a new trial. In cases where the trial
court's decision is reversed, victims and witnesses must testify again.
Given the strong state interest in reforming juveniles, protecting
society and conserving judicial resources and the fact that a one trial
system also requires some victims and witnesses to testify twice, the
burden placed on witnesses and victims by the de novo system cannot be
considered unreasonable.
In sum, the de novo trial system better suits the needs of juvenile
offenders, society and the court system for several reasons. First,
under the de novo system, judges can expeditiously provide the
rehabilitative help that juveniles need. Secondly, the de novo system
does not appear to burden judicial economy. In fact, despite
proponents' claims to the contrary, the evidence appears to indicate
that a de novo system actually furthers judicial economy. Finally,
although a slight burden is placed on those victims and witnesses who
are forced to testify at two proceeding, this burden exists in a one
trial system and is outweighed by the strong state interest in
rehabilitating juveniles, protecting society and conserving judicial
resources.

II. AUTOMATICALLY TRYING JUVENILES CHARGED WITH MURDER, MANSLAUGHTER,
AGGRAVATED RAPE, FORCIBLE RAPE OF A CHILD, ASSAULT WITH INTENT TO ROB OR
MURDER AND ARMED ROBBERY CONTRADICTS THE NOTIONS UPON WHICH THE
JUVENILE
JUSTICE SYSTEM WAS FOUNDED AND, ULTIMATELY, PLACES SOCIETY AT RISK.

Besides eliminating the de novo system, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act
also provides for the automatic trial of juveniles charged with murder,
manslaughter, aggravated rape of a child, assault with intent to rob or
murder and armed robbery in adult court. The automatic trial provision
is unnecessary in light of new procedures that provide for a post-trial
amenability to rehabilitation determination. Moreover, automatically
treating certain juveniles as adults goes against the traditional
purposes of the juvenile system, and, ultimately, poses a greater risk
to society when correctional authorities release the offender.
The provision providing for automatic trial in adult court of juveniles
charged with murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape of a child, assault
with intent to rob or murder and armed robbery in adult court is
unwarranted in light of additional provisions contained within the
Juvenile Justice Reform Act that eliminate pretrial transfer hearings
and replace them with post-trial amenability to rehabilitation
hearings. Scott Harshbarger, the Attorney General of Massachusetts and
author of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, states that the automatic
transfer provision is necessary to address the "the time-consuming and
burdensome nature of the transfer hearing process." In other words, Mr.
Harshbarger advocates treating juveniles as adults in certain cases
because it is too much of a bother to conduct a pretrial hearing to
determine whether the juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation. Mr.
Harshbarger's position is especially confusing in light of the provision
in the Juvenile Justice Reform Act that supplants pretrial transfer
hearings with post-trial amenability to rehabilitation hearings. Under
the new system, the legislature has eliminated pretrial transfer
hearings in juvenile court and mandated that the court hold trials
first. If the juvenile is found guilty at the trial, the court holds a
post trial amenability hearing in conjunction with the sentencing
heating. Once the court makes a determination as to whether the
juvenile is amenable to rehabilitation, the judge can impose three
possible sentences: (1) an adult sentence; (2) a juvenile sentence; or
(3) commit the juvenile to the Department of Youth Services until he/she
reaches the age of twenty-one. As the legislature has eliminated the
burdensome nature of the transfer process, Mr. Harshbarger's rationale
for the automatic trial provision makes no sense. Moreover, the adult
trial provision effectively denies juveniles charged with certain crimes
rehabilitation opportunities and defies common sense by transferring
juveniles out of the juvenile system where an adult sentence may be
imposed by a judge who is familiar with the needs of juveniles to the
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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