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Right to a Public Jury Trial: A Need for Today's Juvenile Court

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 76 Issue: 5 Dated: (February-March 1993) Pages: 230-238
J B Sanborn Jr
Date Published
9 pages

Juvenile defendants are accorded nearly all the constitutional rights afforded adult defendants save the rights to a public trial and a trial by jury. This author argues that current juvenile courts have discarded many of their traditional characteristics and are so similar to adult courts that the Supreme Court should consider the issue of public and jury trials for juveniles.


While juvenile courts were not required to provide young defendants with standard constitutional rights throughout most of the century, in 1966 the Supreme Court ruled that a number of rights should be extended to youth facing transfer to criminal courts. A year later, the Court held juvenile court answerable to the 14th amendment due process clause, rather than directly to the Bill of Rights. In McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, the Court held that jury trials would be harmful to the juvenile courts because they would encourage adversarial proceedings, violate the court's confidential and protective nature, and inflict philosophical and financial damage. Today, juveniles are given the right to a jury trial and the right to a public trial by only 11 and 7 States, respectively. However, the current trend in juvenile justice is toward retribution, and the absence of the public jury trial can lead to unfair hearings in which the judge may be biased against the youth because of his record of past hearings, or may fail to assess the evidence thoroughly. The ever-increasing punitive nature of juvenile justice requires additional safeguards, including the right to a public trial by jury. 2 tables and 80 notes