Today, the prevailing line of thinking surrounding juvenile court stems from the case of Kent v. United States, which started humbly enough in juvenile and criminal courts before being appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. Truly, Kent v. United States started a wave of reform to juvenile cases in terms of their resemblance to more adversarial courts.
Some notes on this landmark event in juvenile law history:
If we are to fully understand the import of this case alongside other juvenile court cases before and after, it would be advantageous to know the specifics of the backstory. At the time of first being arrested, 16-year-old Morris Kent, a resident of the District of Columbia, was detained for a number of charges, including “housebreaking”, robbery and rape.
Throughout these juvenile cases tried in adult courts, Kent and his representatives maintained that the procedure employed by legal authorities was unjust, specifically with regard to the way he was remanded to a higher court without prior warning. While this may seem like a moot point to some, considering the seriousness of the charges and the fact Kent was found guilty of some of them, the Supreme Court elected to hear the case in 1966.
To the surprise of some, the Court overturned the appeals court’s decision and found instead for Kent, citing the hasty nature of the original juvenile court’s move to yield jurisdiction to a criminal court without a notification hearing for the defendant’s sake.
The implications for juvenile court cases were and still are considerable. At a purely logistical level, as a result of the majority decision in Kent v. United States, juvenile cases nationwide are required to invoke a preliminary hearing to apprise suspected minor offenders of the charges brought against them and the forum in which a child’s legal claim will be processed. More than this, though, Kent v. United States helped to apply semblances of due process to juvenile court cases and serves to keep courts’ actions as governed by parens patriae in check.