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E THICAL I SSUES IN THE L EGAL S YSTEM. - Unit 3 -. The Evolution of Juvenile Court. In the past, juvenile courts emphasized a rehabilitative approach, taking into consideration the best interests of the child

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the evolution of juvenile court
The Evolution of Juvenile Court
    • In the past, juvenile courts emphasized a rehabilitative approach, taking into consideration the best interests of the child
  • In the 1990s, juvenile court underwent dramatic revisions that increased the number of juveniles transferred to adult court & allowed more punitive sanctions for juvenile offenders

- Lower minimum age for transfer to adult court

- Increased range of offenses for which transfer is allowed

juvenile court cont d
Juvenile Court (cont’d)…
  • Juvenile court judges hear evidence about the youth’s offense & determine whether he/she should be adjudicated as a delinquent

(Psychologists are often called upon to evaluate juvenile

offenders to help the court make this determination)

  • The following issues are taken into consideration when determining whether a juvenile will be transferred to adult court:

- Potential dangerousness & risk for re-offending

- Maturity level

- Amenability to treatment

juvenile court cont d1
Juvenile Court (cont’d)…

In re Gault (1967) – U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles

facing criminal charges are entitled to the same due process

rights as adults

 This landmark ruling provided juveniles with constitutional protection under the law; however,

it opened up the door for juveniles to be subjected to the same penalties as adults

ethical conflicts of prosecuting juveniles as adults
Ethical Conflicts of Prosecuting Juveniles as Adults:

Should juveniles be held to the same standard as adults given

their developmental differences???

  • Judgment & decision-making abilities are not fully developed
  • Personality is still developing/not yet stable
  • Many “age out” of antisocial behaviors by early to mid-20s
do juveniles understand miranda rights
Do juveniles understand Miranda rights?

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be

used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you

cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you…”

  • Some juveniles may not knowingly, intelligently, & voluntarily waive their Miranda rights
  • Thomas Grisso (1981) evaluated juvenile understanding of Miranda warnings & found that juveniles < 15 years demonstrated significantly poorer comprehension of the function/purpose of the warning + misunderstood much of the vocabulary & wording
proposed reforms
Proposed reforms:
  • Simplify the wording in Miranda warnings to make them easier for juveniles to understand
  • Appoint an adult to help juveniles understand the meaning of Miranda rights & the implications of waiving them
  • Require an attorney or juvenile advocate to be present during police interrogations

(as a result of their developmental immaturity, juveniles are vulnerable to coercion & providing inaccurate information under pressure)

juvenile competency to stand trial
Juvenile Competency to Stand Trial

Juveniles are held to the same legal standard for

competency to stand trial as adults.

Dusky v. United States (1960)  a defendant must have sufficient

ability to consult with his lawyer as well as a rational and factual

understanding of the proceedings against him

  • Factual understanding = basic understanding of courtroom proceedings & players (attorneys, judge, jury, etc.)
  • Rational understanding = understanding of charges, potential consequences if convicted, & constitutional rights
  • Ability to consult with counsel = communicating effectively w/ attorney & comprehending his/her legal advice
why might a juvenile be found incompetent to stand trial
Why might a juvenile be found incompetent to stand trial?

Reasons for a finding of juvenile incompetence: 

  • - Mental illness
  • - Cognitive limitations or mental retardation

- Developmental incompetence (immaturity)

Research suggests that adolescents are at GREATER RISK (compared to adults) for impairments in trial competence (which is more likely to be related to developmental immaturity than mental disability)

evidence of the problem with measuring juvenile competency against the adult legal standard
Evidence of the problem with measuring juvenile competency against the adult legal standard:

Cowden & McKee (1995) examined the forensic competency

evaluations of 136 juveniles (ages 9 – 16) referred to evaluators by

the courts:

Over 50% of 13 – 14 year-olds were judged incompetent

84% of 15 year-olds were found incompetent

72% of 16 year-olds were found incompetent

proposed reforms1
Proposed reforms:
  • Educate attorneys & forensic evaluators about the developmental factors that may affect juvenile trial competence
  • Mandate the forensic evaluation of juveniles prior to court proceedings
  • Assume adjudicative incompetence for adolescents < age 13

(and exclude transfer of this population to adult criminal court)

the case of lionel tate
The case of Lionel Tate:
  • At age 12, killed a 6 year-old girl

(allegedly a neighborhood playmate)

  • Claimed he had been imitating the

wrestling moves he had seen on TV

  • The girl’s injuries included a fractured

skull, fractured rib & lacerated liver

  • Lionel Tate was convicted of 1st degree murder

in 2001 (at the age of 14) & sentenced to LWOP

Lionel Tate was the youngest person in modern

U.S. history to be sentenced to LWOP.

juvenile capital punishment
Juvenile capital punishment

Landmark cases:

Thompson v. Oklahoma(1988) – U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of individuals who were under age 16 at time of offense

Roper v. Simmons (2005) – U.S. Supreme Court barred the execution of juveniles under age 18 at time of offense

juvenile capital punishment cont d
Juvenile Capital Punishment (cont’d)…

Prior to Roper v. Simmons (2005),

22 inmates were executed for crimes

they committed before the age of 18.

As a result of this ruling, the alternative

to sentencing juveniles to death is to

sentence them to life without parole.

What do you think?

Should juveniles under the age of 18 be eligible to receive a sentence of life without parole (LWOP)?

children as witnesses
Children as witnesses:

Children who are victims of physical

or sexual abuse sometimes are asked

to testify against their abusers in court.

Interviewers meet with children to gather

information about the incident(s).

the negative effects of suggestive interviewing
The Negative Effects of Suggestive Interviewing

( - ) Leading questions suggest details that the child did not

previously mention

( - ) Children may affirm details presented to them just to be

cooperative w/ the adult interviewer

( - ) Biased interviewers who have preconceived notions about the

guilt of the alleged abuser may frame questions in a way that

will elicit information consistent w/ their beliefs

( - ) Praising children when they provide the answer the

interviewer was “looking for” or expressing disappointment

when they do not can influence how they answer

mcmartin preschool case 1980s
McMartin Preschool Case (1980s)

The McMartin family operated a preschool

in Manhattan Beach, California, & were charged

with numerous counts of sexual abuse by children

in their care.

Suggestive questioning techniques

were utilized by interviewers – 360 children

reported they had been sexually abused.

Children who claimed they were abused were positively reinforced & the interviewers were extremely coercive in their questioning.

The accused were eventually acquitted on all counts.

proposed reforms2
Proposed reforms:
  • Encourage use of specially designed interview questionnaires for interviewing children
  • Ask open-ended questions (e.g., “Tell me what happened”) so a child can recount the incident in his/her own words
  • Educate interrogators regarding the scientific findings related to interviewing children & the reliability of children’s testimony
  • If a child must testify in court, utilize closed-circuit television to present his/her testimony to a jury
  • Provide a child advocate to sit w/ the child during testimony

Goldstein, A. M. (Ed.). (2003). Handbook of Psychology (Vol. 11, Forensic Psychology). Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Greene, E., Heilbrun, K., Fortune, W.H., & Nietzel, M.T. (2006). Psychology and the Legal System. Florence: Wadsworth/Thomson/Cengage Learning.

Grisso, T. (1997). The competence of adolescents as trial defendants. Psychology, Public

Policy, and Law, 3(1), 3 – 32.

Grisso, T., Steinberg, L., Woolard, J., Cauffman, E., Scott, E., Graham, S., Lexcen, F.,

Reppucci, N.D., Schwartz, R. (2003). Juveniles’ competence to stand trial: A

comparison of adolescents’ and adults’ capacities as trial defendants. Law and Human Behavior, 27(4), 333 – 363.

Santrock, J. (2008). Life-Span Development (11th Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.