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The Culpability of Juvenile in our Justice System

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            An alarming situation continues to threaten the modern society as the crime rate committed by youth is increasing in numbers. The age of the perpetrators of crime is going down. An efficient juvenile justice system is very important in one’s nation to ensure the protection of the young offenders.

This paper contains a description of the juvenile justice system and the procedures being followed in the juvenile courts. The paper also discusses the reduced personal culpability of young offenders under the law. The paper attempts to give an overview of the justice system and to describe reasons and major premises of the lessened personal culpability of the juveniles.


            The contemporary society is disturbed by the alarming increase in the number of youth who are engaged in criminal activities. In the year 2000, there were 2,369,400 arrests recorded involving children, and 363,500 of these arrests were categorized as theft. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) remarked that theft accounts for the greatest cause of youth arrest (Einstein Law, 2008).

            This particular statistic raises considerable concern from the members of the society, particularly in terms of the young children’s capability to go through a trial. The youth of today’s world are greatly different from the children before. There is this news event wherein five boys beat violently a man and his son. According the Associated Press, the boys ended up throwing sticks and stones to the man who was playing cricket with his son. The man had a fracture on his cheek, fell down, had a heart attack, and died. The boys were charged and sentenced of two years in a youth detention center in England (Young, 2008).

            The boys were believed to be around the age of 10 to 12 years old, and it raised controversy, but the court says that they are accountable for the death of the man and that the children committed a crime (Young, 2008). The case is quite bothering as it makes one think that children can actually hurt or even kill people. The number of children who are able to preserve their innocence is going down over the round of the decade. The overall effect of the escalating rate of the number of children engage in criminal activities is quite devastating as the age of the committers of crime goes down. Its impact to the society is very disturbing.

Several contributing factors in the society significantly influence children to participate in juvenile crimes. For instance, exposure to sex, violence, and other harmful materials has an effect on their viewpoint. Losing their childhood innocence and core values that should be present in them places them in a situation which they are unable to handle or manage, making them vulnerable to commit crimes (Young, 2008).

            One of the aspects of the juvenile justice system that is being debated is the culpability of the children, their competence in withstanding court trials, and how they respond to treatment. The intelligence of an adolescent may resemble that of adults, but the other aspects of their self, like the psychosocial, is not fully developed. They have poor judgment because they are impulsive. They are susceptible to pressure from people around them. They also do not fully consider the future and what it holds for them, and they undermine the effects of the crime (Steinberg, 2007).

            Their immaturity is a thing to consider if they are competent in participating in the proceedings of the court trials. Youth who committed crimes can alter the course of their lives. 10 percent of the youth offenders evolve in being chronic and frequent crime offenders (Steinberg, 2007). The problem of youth crime rooted in various causes that may influence the youth in committing themselves to activities that are harmful to others and to themselves to which they are unaware of.

            The sudden erosion of the core values of children remain as the main culprit of the current situation of youth offenders. Parent must continue to guide their children in the things they are exposed to for the effect these might have on their concept of self.

Juvenile Justice System

            A very important aspect of the overall justice system is the juvenile justice system where youth offenders are tried and sentenced. It is quite difficult to develop an effective and fair juvenile justice system. The policymakers are having difficulty in balancing the important considerations in deciding this type of justice system. These are the welfare of youth who committed crimes and how to ensure public safety. Over the years, the juvenile justice system swung from one side to the other, unable to decide which to follow (Steinberg, 2007). The history of the juvenile justice system verifies this particular circumstance. Early reformers view juvenile justice system as a system that is protective and seeks rehabilitation of the vulnerable children who commit crimes. The lenient treatment of the juvenile courts to youth offenders raised concerns and negative remarks from members of the society who are ensuring public safety. In response to the negative assessment of the juvenile justice system, critics developed a system that punished youth for the crime they committed. The drastic changes include minimum sentencing guidelines and transfer to the criminal courts (Dunn, 2008).

            During the early years, juveniles were treated like adults as they were criminally responsible for the crimes they committed. A common law, however, saved children who aged below seven years old due to the belief that they commit crimes unintentionally. Progressive reformers, on the other hand, respond to the theories that the youth are being given justice in the adult court system. Hence, they developed a system protecting the vulnerable populations and the juvenile justice system was born which prioritizes the interest of the child. Rehabilitation is one of the best developments in the juvenile justice system as they thought of the developmental differences between adolescence and adults. Adolescents are considered less responsible for their actions and behavior due to their lack of competency and experience. Adolescents are also more educable and susceptible to change than adults. Thus, rehabilitation is proven effective (Dunn, 2008).

            In the contemporary society, a lot of people express their concern on the possible harsh treatment to juveniles upon transfer and its negative effects on their psychological well-being. The youth is one of the treasures of the nation and should be protected by the justice system, but at today’s state of the justice system, courts are depriving the right of these youth offenders to start anew.

            Since the inception of the 20th century, every state in the country has prosecuted the minors who violated the law under the juvenile court. The courts also focused more on treatment, rehabilitation, and protection of the youth offenders rather than punishing them. In 1980s, there is a dramatic increase in the number of crime involving youth, and the concerns on public safety also increased. In response to the alarming situation, the legislatures of the 46 states lowered the age of youth tried in the adult court and make punishments more severe in both juvenile and adult courts. In the U.S., more than 200,000 youth offenders are tried in the adult court each year (Steinberg, 2007).

            Trials taking place in the juvenile courts mainly focused on rehabilitation of the delinquent youths who committed crimes. The maturity of the youth offenders are often not taken into account for it was established that juveniles lack maturity than adults. As there is an increase in number of youth tried in adult courts, questions were formulated regarding their culpability or their blameworthiness for the crime and their competence in participating in court proceedings. These aspects are relevant for these determine theirs capability to participate fully in resolving the case (Steinberg, 2007).

Due Process in the Juvenile Court System

            The role played by the juvenile justice system is like a parent who seeks the interest of his children. The proceedings are informal and protective. The judgment for crimes of youth offenders is based on the background of the offender and not on the crime and punishment required. The sentences aim to render child’s needs and guide them to effective treatment. The juveniles were secured of “confidential proceedings, flexible sentencing, speedy dispositions and the expungement of records” (Dunn, 2008, p.33).

            A pivotal change happened in the juvenile court system due to the claims that certain important elements are lacking in the juvenile court system. Some said that a child must be given the right to a hearing, as well as the right to counsel in any important court proceeding. A case that is relatively important and crucial must be transferred to the criminal court. In short, they argue that a juvenile court system must follow a standard procedure in conducting trials (Dunn, 2008).

            Furthermore, it was claimed that the court proceedings in the juvenile court system lacks the fundamental constitutional rights given to the accused such as the right to the adequate notice of charges, the right for a fair and just hearing, the right to seek counsel, the right to protect oneself in self-incrimination, and the right to confrontation and cross-examination. These claims slowly transform the juvenile court system into a criminal court. The sudden transition affects the significant role played by the juvenile court system. From their image as a rehabilitative system they gradually transform into a formal court adhering procedural patterns. The juvenile court system resembled the adult criminal court system (Dunn, 2008).

            The resembling of the two court systems increase the number of crime rates involving youth and the media coverage in the cases, particularly the heinous crimes committed by youth. Many people began to question the effectivity of the juvenile court system and their punitive style in judging youth offenders. In the recent years, juveniles were allowed to be tried in the adult criminal courts. As the juveniles were being transferred, they were deprived of the treatment and rehabilitation that would make them a functional citizen of the society and at their young age, they were doomed to serve their sentence in punitive institutions (Dunn, 2008).

Culpability of Juvenile in our Justice System

            One of the important foundations of the U.S. justice system is blameworthiness of the accused or the perpetrators of crime and not only the basic premises of the crime. Conventionally, the courts consider various mitigating factors that may affect the severity of the offense and the equal punishment for that particular offense. Impaired decision-making is one of the considerations. It can be caused by mental illness or retardation. Courts also put into account the circumstances that lead the perpetrators of crime to carry out such crime. If there is a valid reason why the crime took place, punishment will go down eventually. The background of the offender is also considered, if the crime seems to be out of his nature and most likely not to happen again, the sentence for that crime is lowered (Steinberg, 2007).

            Scientists proved the difference in thinking of adolescents and adults. They can commit crime impulsively, but other social and psychological aspects must be put into consideration for it also affects their behavior. This is the aspect of psychosocial maturity. The mature intellectual ability is the aspect of development closely examined by scientists. It was believed that by the age of 16, the intellectual ability of adolescents closely resembles that of an adult (Steinberg, 2007).

            Another aspect that determines the reduced culpability of a juvenile is the short sighted decision making. It is the ability of a person to decide based on short term consequences of an action. Adolescents seldom based their decisions on future effects a particular action. They formulate decisions by weighing rewards and risks on their short term effects on the person. Adolescents also seek rewards and neglect the risk which often is the culprit of their bad judgment (Steinberg, 2007).

            Adolescents are also characterized by poor impulse control. They take less time in considering their actions than adults. Their impulsiveness is manifested in their behavior and actions. Another characteristic that defines the reduced culpability of juveniles is their vulnerability to peer pressure. These pressures make them take risks that they should not take. Adolescents fear being in the out-group and be ostracized by their friends, that is why they take the risk without having much thought of the consequences that will result from their actions. Adolescents are immature persons that are having difficulty making the right decision because of their lack of experience and inability to contemplate on the consequences of their behavior. They favor immediate rewards like the approval of their friends than the long term consequences of committing a crime (Steinberg, 2007).

            Juveniles are spared from the sentence of death penalty as the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that under certain circumstances, juvenile cannot be sentenced with death penalty because of their diminished personal culpability. The court identified three major differences of youth offender which are below 18 years old and adults. The court said that youth offenders cannot be classified with reliability among worst offenders (American Bar Association [ABA] Division for Public Education, 2007).

            First, the youth offenders show lack of maturity and not fully developed sense of responsibility unlike the adults which make them most likely to commit unpleasant decisions. Second, the juveniles are more vulnerable to peer pressure and they have less control over their environment. Lastly, adolescent’s identity is not fully established that makes the crime they commit as a manifestation of their search for their real identity and serve as proof of their irretrievable character (ABA Division for Public Education, 2007). These reasons suggest that there is a major difference in the culpability of juvenile and adults upon committing a crime. The personal diminished culpability of juveniles lowers their sentence or judgment for the crime they committed.

            Another consideration that has been argued in court is the ability of the juveniles to participate in the criminal proceedings. There is a major difference in the culpability in committing an alleged crime and the competence of juvenile to stand in a trial in court. The latter mainly refers to the mental state of a person while the court proceedings are taking place. The U.S. justice system requires the metal competence of the accused of an alleged crime and their understanding of the procedures that will take place and the ability to assist their own counsels. Questions were raised in the trials for juveniles in criminal adult courts as to whether they have the competence and maturity to carry out the criminal proceedings (Steinberg, 2007).

            Researches found out that juvenile under the age of 14 years old have a limited understanding on the legal processes that will take place. They cannot fully communicate the relevant information about their case, the way the adult offenders do. They do not have adult-like decision making ability; their psychosocial aspect is not fully mature and cannot make adult-like judgments (Dunkel & Drenkhahn, 2003).

            All of these boil down to the observation that to enable the young offenders to participate fully in the criminal proceedings and established competence in court, they need to be assisted by “specific supporting procedures, rituals, questions and explanations” and most especially professional help (Dunkel & Drenkhahn, 2003, p.680).

            If the youth offenders have personal diminished culpability and are spared for adequate penalties of their crimes, how are they able to render justice on the part of the victims? Should the parents be punished too? Parents should never fail to give guidance to their children, and children committing crimes only shows lack of it. Parents should be held accountable for their children’s actions. Since the young offenders have a diminished personal culpability, absence of fair and just judgment fail to satisfy the other party.

            In some places like Halifax in United Kingdom, parents are held liable and are required to pay for the property crime their kids committed. The Halifax council passed a motion enabling such law (CBC News, 2006).

            The objective of such motion is to discourage children in engaging themselves in such crimes and to further encourage the parents to guide and guard their children. This is only possible in property crimes, but a specific law encompassing a punishment for parents when their children commit heinous crimes is not yet available. The absence of such law is one of the factors of the increase in the number of crimes committed by young offenders.

            Personally, I think that parents should be held responsible for their children’s behaviors and actions. They should have sympathy on the victim and somehow pay respect to the family and relatives of the victim. Compensation to the damages is essential.


            An alarming situation is slowly emerging in the contemporary society; there is a drastic increase in the number of youth engaged in criminal activities. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) noted that theft is the crime to which adolescents mostly engage themselves in. Still, the mere fact that the age of the perpetrators of crime is going down is really disturbing.

The establishment of an effective and efficient juvenile justice system is relevant in a nation’s total justice system. The role it plays is very significant; it aims to protect the rights and foster treatment of the young offenders. A good juvenile justice system should encourage rehabilitation rather than punishment for there is a bigger chance that the young offenders can alter their lives than adults.

The main concern in giving judgments on youth offenders is their culpability or blameworthiness for the crime they committed. The adolescents have diminished personal culpability due to certain circumstances and major differences they have with adults upon committing a crime. Should the parent be punished too because of their children’s crime? Parents should be held accountable for the behaviors and actions of their children. Committing a serious crime reflects lack of guidance of parents or guardians of children. Parents should somehow help in giving justice on the victims and seek help for the rehabilitation of their own children. They should somehow be a tool in resolving the case and carry their children to the right path for them not to commit another serious crime.


American Bar Association Division for Public Education. (2007). Dialogue on Youth and Justice. Chicago IL: American Bar Association. Retrieved September 9, 2008 from http://www.abanet.org/publiced/features/DYJfull.pdf

CBC News. (2006, October 11). Parents should pay for kids’ crimes: Halifax Council. CBCNews.ca. Retrieved September 9, 2008 from http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2006/10/11/parent-responsible.html.

Dunkel, F. & Drenkhahn, K. (2003). Youth Violence: New Patterns and Local Responses- Experiences in East and West. Germany: Forum Verlag Godesberg

Dunn, C. (2008). Condemning our youth to lives as criminals: Incarcerating children as adults. Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest, Spring 2008, 30–50. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from http://law.richmond.edu/rjolpi/Issues_Archived/2008_Spring/dunn.pdf.

Einstein Law. (2008). Juvenile crime. LawyerShop. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from http://www.lawyershop.com/practice-areas/criminal-law/juvenile-law/crimes/.

Steinberg, L. (2007, October 25). Juveniles in the justice system: New evidence from research on adolescent development. Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from http://familyimpactseminars.org/doc.asp?d=s_wifis25c01.pdf.

Young, A.S. (2008). Reflections: Children committing crime and the death of innocence. Helium. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from http://www.helium.com/items/657039-reflections-children-committing-crime-and-the-death-of-innocence.

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