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Law School Case Brief

McKeiver v. Pennsylvania - 403 U.S. 528, 91 S. Ct. 1976 (1971)

Rule:

The juvenile court proceeding has not yet been held to be a "criminal prosecution," within the meaning and reach of the Sixth Amendment, and also has not yet been regarded as devoid of criminal aspects merely because it usually has been given the civil label. 

Facts:

These cases raised the issue whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment affords the right to trial by jury in state juvenile delinquency proceedings. No. 322 involved separate proceedings against two boys, 15 and 16 years old, respectively, in the Juvenile Branch of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, charging as acts of juvenile delinquency conduct by the juvenile in one case which constituted felonies under Pennsylvania law, and conduct amounting to misdemeanors in the second case. The trial judge in each case denied a request for jury trial, and adjudged the juvenile as delinquent on the respective charges, one of the juveniles being put on probation and the other being committed to an institution. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed both orders without opinion. (215 Pa Super 760, 255 A2d 921215 Pa Super 762, 255 A2d 922.) Consolidating the appeals in both cases, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed, holding that there was no constitutional right to a jury trial in the juvenile court. (438 Pa 339, 265 A2d 350.) In No. 128, a group of children, ranging in age from 11 to 15 years, were charged by juvenile petitions in the District Court, Hyde County, North Carolina, with various acts amounting to misdemeanors under state law, which acts arose out of a series of demonstrations protesting school assignments and a school consolidation plan. Consolidating the several cases into groups for hearing, the trial judge excluded the general public over counsel's objection in all but two of the cases; denied a request for jury trial in each case; and entered a custody commitment order in each case, declaring the juvenile a delinquent and placing each juvenile on probation after suspending the commitments. The cases were consolidated into two groups for appeal, and the Court of Appeals of North Carolina affirmed in each instance. Consolidating the cases into a single appeal, the Supreme Court of North Carolina deleted that portion of each order relating to the commitment, but otherwise affirmed, holding that a juvenile was not constitutionally entitled to a jury in delinquency proceedings (275 NC 517, 169 SE2d 879). Petitioner juveniles sought further review.

Issue:

Was a juvenile constitutionally entitled to a trial by jury in state delinquency proceedings?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the judgments because the right to trial by jury in the adjudicative phase of a state juvenile court delinquency proceeding was not guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Court distinguished the nature and purpose of the juvenile court proceeding from a criminal proceeding and noted that all rights constitutionally assured for the adult accused had not traditionally been imposed upon the state juvenile proceeding. The Court found that the applicable due process standard in both proceedings was fundamental fairness. To that end, the Court noted the requirements of notice, counsel, confrontation, cross-examination, and standard of proof in juvenile proceedings. However, the Court determined that the legal system did not always regard a jury as a necessary component of accurate factfinding and noted that juries were not required in equity, workmen's compensation, probate, or deportation cases. The Court concluded that trial by jury in the juvenile court's adjudicative stage was not a constitutional requirement.

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