Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J is for Juveniles

Federal law requires cases against minors [juveniles] to be transferred to state court if at all possible.  The states differ in their laws regarding juveniles charged with crimes, but the following are similarities:

The goal of the juvenile justice system is not to remove juvenile offenders from society through incarceration, but rather to rehabilitate them.

Police officers must have probable cause to search and arrest a minor who is suspected of violating a criminal statute. However, public officials in quasi-parental relationships, like school personnel, need only "reasonable suspicion" of wrongdoing, rather than probable cause, to temporarily detain and search minors.

In 1899, the nation’s first juvenile court for youth under the age of 16 was established in Chicago to provide rehabilitation rather than punishment. By 1925, following the Chicago model, all but two states had juvenile courts whose goals were to turn youth into productive citizens by utilizing treatment that included warnings, probation, and training school confinement. Treatment lasted until the child was “cured” or turned 21.

Supreme Court criminal cases regarding juveniles:

In 1967, In re Gault - minors have the right to an attorney in juvenile proceedings, and if a minor cannot afford an attorney, he or she has the right to be represented by a state-appointed attorney.  Prior to this case, the courts generally considered children as the property of their parents.

In 2005, Roper v Simmons - the death penalty for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2010, Graham v Florida - life sentences without parole are limited to young criminals who commit murder. It is unconstitutional to give a criminal who was under 18 at the time of the crime, a life term in prison with no chance for parole for crimes other than murder.

In 2012, Miller v Alabama - juveniles who commit murder may not receive mandatory life sentences with no chance for parole.  The age of the juvenile at the time of the crime, attitude and remorse, previous criminal behavior, and prospects at rehabilitation must be considered in imposing sentences.

Below are some Supreme Court civil cases regarding juveniles, most taken from this link:

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Issue:  Saluting the flag
Bottom Line:  Public schools cannot override the religious beliefs of their students by forcing them to salute the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kent v. United States (1966)
Issue: Juveniles and serious crime
Bottom Line: Teens can be tried as adults
A minor can be tried and punished as an adult. In deciding whether to remove a case from juvenile court, judges must weigh a variety of factors, including the seriousness of the crime, the juvenile's age, and the defendant's criminal background and mental state.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969)
Issue: Freedom of speech at school
Bottom Line: Students have the right to express themselves - up to a point
First Amendment guarantees are balanced against a school's need to keep order.  As long as an act of expression doesn't disrupt classwork or school activities or invade the rights of others, it's acceptable.

Ingraham v. Wright (1977)
Issue: School Discipline
Bottom Line: Teachers can use corporal punishment, if the locality allows it
Reasonable physical discipline at school doesn't violate the Constitution. The Eighth Amendment was designed to protect convicted criminals from excessive punishment at the hands of the government, not schoolchildren who misbehave. The Court did, however, direct teachers and principals to be cautious and use restraint when deciding whether to administer corporal punishment to students, and consider the seriousness of the student's offense, the student's attitude and past behavior, the age and physical condition of the student, and the availability of a less severe but equally effective means of discipline.  Twenty-two states currently permit corporal punishment in public schools, and 28 have banned the practice.

New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Issue: Privacy rights at school
Bottom Line: A student's belongings can be searched, but not arbitrarily
Students have a legitimate expectations of privacy, but that is balanced with the school's responsibility for maintaining an environment in which learning can take place.  School officials may search a student's property if they have a reasonable suspicion that a school rule has been broken, or a student has committed or is in the process of committing a crime.

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
Issue: Student journalism and the First Amendment
Bottom Line: Schools can censor student newspapers
A school newspaper isn't a public forum in which anyone can voice an opinion, but rather a supervised learning experience for students interested in journalism. "Educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities," the Court said, "so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate [educational] concerns."

West Side Community Schools v. Mergens (1990)
Issue: Student clubs
Bottom Line: Public schools that allow student-interest clubs cannot exclude religious or political ones
In 1984, Congress addressed this issue in the Equal Access Act, which required public schools to allow religious and political clubs if they let students form other kinds of student-interest clubs.  If a public school allows only clubs tied to the school curriculum, like a French club related to French classes, it can exclude clubs that don't connect to its educational mission. But once a school allows student-interest clubs, such as a scuba-diving club, environmental club, or jazz club, it cannot exclude religious clubs, political clubs, gay-lesbian clubs, or other groups.  Allowing students to meet on campus to discuss religion after school did not amount to state sponsorship of religion.  If the club is religious in nature, however, the school must refrain from active involvement or sponsorship, so that it doesn't run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

Vernonia School District v. Acton (1995)
Issue: Student athletes and drug testing
Bottom Line: Schools can require drug testing
Schools must balance students' right to privacy against the need to make school campuses safe and keep student athletes away from drugs. The drug-testing policy, which required students to provide a urine sample, involved only a limited invasion of privacy.  "Students who voluntarily participate in school athletics have reason to expect intrusions upon normal rights and privileges, including privacy."
More recently, the Court has ruled in favor of school policies requiring random drug testing for all extracurricular activities (Board of Education v. Earls, 2002).

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (2000)
Issue: School prayer
Bottom Line: Public schools cannot sponsor religious activity
Even if led by students, if prayers are a school-sponsored activity, they are coercive because they placed students in the position of having to participate in a religious ceremony.   Student-initiated group prayer is protected under the First Amendment if it is not sponsored by the school. This is generally accepted to mean, for instance, that a group of student athletes could pray together before a game in the locker room, as long as the coach or other school officials are not involved.

Did you guess right?
Here's Thursday's hint - K is for Korematsu.  Can you guess the case and what it's about?  Leave a comment!


  1. Wow, that's a lot of information on kids!

    1. Yes, quite a few kid cases to digest! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I read the Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier with a great deal of interest. In fact, I looked it up and read some more. I have dinner most Friday nights with a guy who teaches in the Hazelwood East district, so I've got an ice breaker for this Friday.

    One question maybe you'll know. I noted that it was a 5-3 decision. Does that generally mean that one judge abstained for some reason? And is it only okay for a judge to abstain as long as one side already has five votes?

    I'm sure it's more common than I realize, but I'd never noticed a 5-3 decision before.

    1. If the court only had 8 members sitting at the time the case was decided [like right after Scalia passed away], it could have been 5-3. Sometimes a justice will abstain because, for example, he is a newer justice and he was an attorney or a judge on the case before it got to the Supreme Court. Or he has a substantial financial interest in one of the parties. Sometimes a justice is on extended medical leave and doesn't participate. Several reasons. And no, a justice can abstain for any valid reason. Sometimes there are only 8 justices participating and the ruling is 4-4, which generally allows the lower court decision to stand. [Justice is for Supreme Court, Judge is for lower courts.]

    2. Wow, so there have been 4-4 rulings where the lower court decision stands? Oh, thanks for that tidbit. I'm holding on to it. That deserves a place in a story somewhere.