Juvenile criminal justice system
The debate whether juvenile criminal justice system is fair or not is indeed an intriguing one. The answer to this question cannot be made without taking racial discrimination into account. Having read the stories, it is clear that the existing juvenile system has not treated the non-white juvenile kids fairly. It can be argued that they have not been treated fairly on the basis of their skin color. In most of the cases as in this case, African-American and Hispanic youth are tried as adults instead which gets them harsher punishments.
Manny, 17, accused of hitting the pregnant woman is not treated justly. Indeed, he is not the one who has hit the pregnant woman. His case is shifted to the adult court where he pleads guilty to seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He, now, has two felony convictions and gets nine years imprisonment at state prison. On the other hand, Shawn accused of attacking his father while he was asleep. Logically, he is to be tried on charges of attempted murder and the court’s verdict should not be less harsh than Manny. Surprisingly enough, the court’s final verdict took everyone by surprise. Contrary to what was being expected, Judge Edwards ruled that Shawn’s case would not be referred to adult courts unlike Manny and he will stay in Santa Clara County’s Juvenile Hall until he ages 19 with all the facilities to attend community college classes and private counseling sessions etc.
On comparison, the court’s attitude towards these two juvenile offenders was biased. It is indeed gross injustice. The decision in Shawn’s case further corroborated the perception that juvenile justice system was treating juvenile offenders on the basis of their ethnicity, color and social position. Shawn came off an affluent family therefore he was not handed down harsh punishment. Manny was discriminated against in the case on the basis of his race otherwise the court would have meted out the same treatment to Shawn. Manny is convicted as a delinquent while Manny guilty.
The judicial waiver refers to the transfer of juvenile cases to criminal courts if the case meets certain criteria. The judicial waiver should take place in case of grave and serious crime keeping in mind whether or not juvenile can be rehabilitated during his stay. If he is deemed unlikely to rehabilitate himself during the given period of time, he may be shifted to criminal court of justice but again it depends on the seriousness of his crime. The entire process of judicial waiver should be impartial to an extent that the decision should not elicit questions on its credibility just as it did in the case of Manny and Shawn.
Until 1980s, a juvenile could not be adjudicated in juvenile court and then tried for the same offense in an adult criminal court. But now the state court systems for juvenile sentencing can take precedence over federal courts except for the cases related to violence and drug activity.
The presence of racial disparities in the juvenile justice systems is a cause for concern. The court decisions are racially influenced, if not all, but most of them are. However, this is not to say every judge sees the case through the spectacle of race, prejudice and biases. A number of surveys support that claim. The juvenile system is racially biased which should be changed. As Cordell puts it, “one way (to ameliorate the system) is to increase the number of judges on the bench who look like the people who come before them.”(Cordell, 2007) The stereotyping is one major cause of biased court decisions. Nevertheless, the system can be made transparent and court proceedings impartial once the judges of same communities are appointed. For example, a non-white is always less likely to be prejudiced against Negroes mainly due to stereotyping which is so entrenched in the minds of people. Eventually, such stereotyping results in the biased decisions.(Hess, 2009)
In my view, the decision in Shawn’s case was glaringly partial as the offences of these kids were of the same magnitude but the non-white boy got harsher punishment. The juvenile system can also be ameliorated if the biases of the judges are discussed and addressed. This can be done through judicial education and training. The surveys are the reflection of loopholes in the juvenile justice system. The widely-held perception that whites get a break and enjoy privileges (they are kept at home for example) and never get harsh sentences should be replaced by a positive one. Fairness and equality is what ensures the sustainable juvenile justice system.
Hess,M, Kerres (2009) Juvenile System, Cengage Learning 462 pages
Cordell, Ladoris (2007) Frontline Magazine, “Is the System Racially Biased” retrieved fromhttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/juvenile/bench/race.html
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