Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


The fundamental values that underlie the juvenile justice system have developed and changed since its inception in 1899. A system that was once focused on rehabilitating and protecting troubled youth, has developed into a system focused on punishing and confining youth. A decade of increased juvenile crime rates in the United States from the mid-1980s to the mid- 1990s, led many states to change their policies regarding the treatment of juvenile delinquents. Specifically, between 1992 and 1994, forty-nine out of the fifty states broadened or enacted legislation making it easier for juveniles to be tried as adults. Automatic and mandatory waiver statutes allow for the waiver of juvenile jurisdiction and mandate a juvenile's transfer from juvenile court to adult criminal court. As a result of these statutes, an estimated 250,000 juveniles are tried, sentenced, and incarcerated as adults in courts throughout the United States each year.

This article challenges the constitutionality of state statutes that mandate juvenile adjudication in adult courts, and calls for state legislators to abandon such statutes in favor of discretionary transfer statutes. The seminal cases surrounding the establishment of the juvenile justice system in the United States, including Kent v. United States, In re Gault, and In re Winship, established that juvenile delinquents have certain constitutional rights that must be protected. Recent Supreme Court cases, including Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, have identified factors uniquely associated with youth that render juveniles constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. This article contends that automatic and mandatory waiver statutes, by failing to allow for the consideration of the unique factors associated with youth, infringe upon the Constitutional rights afforded of juvenile delinquents.