Juvenile Justice System: Considerations when Addressing Legal Matters

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Juveniles have been afforded certain special legal procedures and sentencing options in light of their status as a legal minority. The Pennsylvania State Legislature and Congress have endeavored to structure the handling of juvenile cases in a manner that is geared more towards rehabilitation than punitive action, though in some cases juveniles will be treated as adults and transferred to criminal court.

In Pennsylvania, juvenile cases are mostly governed by state law and the Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure while the federal government acts a funder of rehabilitation efforts under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002. All juvenile cases begin in juvenile court where, if the juvenile is found to have committed a crime they will be adjudicated as a delinquent and may be placed on probation or taken out of their home (Pennsylvania Code. § 303.6) though in Pennsylvania the judge may waive the case to criminal court. This may occur in response to the judge weighing a number of factors including the juvenile's criminal sophistication, mental maturity, and the alleged act being a felony (National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2000).

An important consideration with juveniles is that courts have consistently found that students have a reduced expectation of privacy in school lockers allowing schools to conduct searches for weapons and narcotics. The school, however, must articulate that a compelling reason for the search exists, in light of the Fourth Amendment protections. (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Cass, 1998). A stated interest in the reduction of drug-related offenses in the minority population has been upheld as valid for the use of drug-sniffing dogs and security guard random searches of school lockers in several cases. As is generally the case for any legal matter, consulting with an attorney before enacting any policies regarding minors is imperative.

References

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Cass, 709 A.2d 350 (PA. 1998)

National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (August 2000). Juvenile Transfers to Criminal Court in the 1990s: Lessons Learned From Four Studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/summary/08_2000/contents.html

Pennsylvania Code. § 303.