Youth In Adult Court
While NJDC’s work focuses on the representation of youth in the delinquency system, many defenders must represent youth in both adult and juvenile court, as the number of youth tried as adults has increased drastically over the past two decades. Even though this trend runs contrary to the rehabilitative focus of the juvenile justice system, defenders representing youth in the adult system must ensure that the procedures comply with due process, that their clients are treated fairly, and that their clients still receive the services and education they need and deserve.
Defenders should also advocate that any child client who is being tried as an adult be placed in a juvenile facility, as youth in adult facilities are far more susceptible to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Beginning in 2005 with Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of opinions ruling that children, even those in adult court, must be treated differently in the context of sentencing. First, Roper found that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18; in 2010 the Court’s opinion in Graham v. Florida held that it is unconstitutional to sentence someone to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a non-homicide crime committed under the age of 18; and in 2012 in Miller v. Alabama, the Court found it unconstitutional to impose a mandatory life-without-parole sentence on someone who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.
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