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History of Juvenile Justice

History of Juvenile Justice - PA RT 1 The History of...

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If you are a young person under the age of 18 and get into trouble with the law, you will probably have your case heard in the juvenile justice system. But this was not always the case. The idea of a separate justice system for juveniles is just over one hundred years old. ORIGINS OF THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM The law has long defined a line between juvenile and adult offenders, but that line has been drawn at different places, for different reasons. Early in United States history, the law was heavily influenced by the com- mon law of England, which governed the American colonies. One of the most important English lawyers of the time was William Blackstone. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England , first published in the late 1760s, were widely read and admired by our nation’s founders. “Infants” and “Adults” at Common Law In one section of his Commentaries , Blackstone identified people who were incapable of committing a crime. Two things were required to hold someone accountable for a crime. First, the person had to have a “vicious will” (that is, the intent to commit a crime). Second, the person had to commit an unlawful act. If either the will or the act was lacking, no crime was committed. The first group of people Blackstone identified as incapable of committing a crime were “infants.” These were not infants in the modern sense of the word, but children too young to fully understand their actions. Blackstone and his contemporaries drew the line between “infant” and “adult” at the point where one could understood one’s actions. Children under the age of seven were as a rule classified as infants who could not be guilty of a felony (a felony is a serious crime such as bur- glary, kidnapping, or murder). Children over the age of 14 were liable to suffer as adults if found guilty of a crime. Between the ages of seven and fourteen was a gray zone. A child in this age range would be presumed incapable of crime. If, however, it appeared that the child understood the difference between right and wrong, the child could be convicted and suffer the full consequences of the crime. These consequences could include death in a capital crime. (A capital crime is a crime for which one might be executed. For examples of children sentenced to death in Blackstone’s time, see the sidebar “Malice Supplies the Age.”) The History of JUVENILE JUSTICE PART 1 4 | ABA Division for Public Education
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But by the law, as it now stands, . . . the capacity of doing ill, or contracting guilt, is not so much measured by years and days, as by the strength of the delin- quent’s understanding and judgment. For one lad of eleven years old may have as much cunning as another of fourteen; and in these cases our maxim is, that malitia supplet aetatem [“malice supplies the age”]. Under seven years of age indeed an infant cannot be guilty of felony; for then a felonious discretion is almost an impossibility in nature: but at eight years old he may be guilty of felony. Also, under fourteen . . . if it appear to the court and jury, that he . . . could discern between
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History of Juvenile Justice - PA RT 1 The History of...

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