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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Essay on Juvenile Rights - Rights of Juvenile Offenders

            The criminal justice system is an arm of the government that ensures that offenders who have committed crime are arrested and brought to justice.  Under the criminal justice system, the police officers arrest the offender and temporarily place him behind bars.  The prosecutors file a case against him so that he may be punished to the full extent of the law.  At the other side of the spectrum are the criminal offenders.  Though they may have committed a crime there are still entitled to present any kind of defense available so that their guilt may be established.  Since they deal with the state all offenders are granted constitutional rights at the time of the arrest so that they may be able to properly defend themselves against the immense and broad power of the state.

Under this process, adults and offenders have similar constitutional rights at the time of the arrest.  This is in view of the landmark decision in the case of In re Gault where the Supreme Court declared that the application of constitutional rights is not limited to adult offenders (Susan Mezey, 1996, p.2).  Police officers need to obtain an arrest warrant.  An arrest warrant may be dispensed with only when the offender is arrested at the time when he has just committed, is in the process of committing or is running away from the scene of the crime.  At the time of the arrest, offenders may be handcuffed, photographed and fingerprinted.  The police officer needs to recite to him his Miranda rights.  The offender has to be informed that he has the right to be silent and that anything he says can be said against him in court.  The offender needs to be informed that he has the right to an attorney and that if he cannot afford an attorney he will be provided a public attorney by the state.  The reason for the Miranda warning is that regardless of age an offender has the right to be informed of the reason why he is being arrested.

The essential difference is that if the crime is a misdemeanor the police officer may arrest the minor even on the basis of a reasonable cause (“Juvenile Law”, p.1). The situation is different in the case of an adult where the police officer needs probable cause before he can take him into custody. This is in view of the constitutional protection granted under the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

A juvenile offender who is arrested for a crime is given the opportunity to make two completed phone calls to his parent or any guardian and to his attorney.   This is a juvenile right.  The reason for the phone call is to afford the juvenile an opportunity to seek advice or assistance from any person who has responsibility over him.  It must be stressed that minors are presumed to be incapable of making important decisions for themselves.  As such, they need the guidance and advice of their parents or guardians.  In addition, the police officers are also procedurally required to notify the minor’s parents or guardians of the arrest.  If the minor refuses to call his parents or guardian out of fear it is the police officer’s responsibility to notify the minor’s parents or guardian.

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From the moment of the arrest, the police officer needs to make a choice whether he will detain the minor or release him from his custody.  If the police officer decides to detain the minor the police officer is required to place the minor in a separate holding facility.  The minor may not be placed in the same holding facility as the adults.  If the police officer decides to release the minor from his custody then the police officer may simply issue a warning to him.  If the police officer decides to take the minor before a Probation Officer he must do so within 24 hours from the time of his arrest (“What is Juvenile Arrest”, p.1).  The Probation Officer will be responsible to make the decision whether he will release the minor, order informal counseling, informal probation or order a petition to be filed against him.  The reason why the minor needs to be presented before a probation officer as soon as possible is for another individual to determine whether there is a legitimate and valid reason for his arrest and to release him if there is no reason for him to be detained.

It is also essential for the police officer to explain to the juvenile his rights in a language that is intelligible to him.  Thus, it is insufficient that the police officer recites to him his right.  During the trial the juvenile may question his arrest on the ground that the reason for his right was not explained to him in a language that is intelligible to him.

The additional protection given to the minors is pursuant to the social justice principle.  It is due primarily to the fact that the juvenile offender’s age makes him incapable of protecting and defending himself against the police officers.  It must be stressed that if the adults are powerless against the mighty police officers who deal with hardened criminals as part of their job then the minors are all the more powerless against them.  Their young age and immaturity also makes them more susceptible to abuse at the hands of police officers.  Since they do not know the law and their rights the police officers may take advantage of them.  Moreover, while it is also the policy in the adult criminal justice system to rehabilitate and reform criminal offenders, minors are given special treatment in accordance with the duty of the state as the parens patriae of the people.

However, there are social reform movements that argue against the expansion of government protection afforded to minors.  They believe that it would be more in keeping with the purpose behind the creation of the juvenile justice system for the juvenile justice system to be given more autonomy.  

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