A Brief History of the Juvenile Justice System

The American criminal justice system has a rich history; within it, the juvenile justice system holds a distinctive place. It was created with the intent of providing an alternative to the punitive measures typically imposed on adults. However, understanding the process of juvenile waiver to adult court necessitates exploring the origins and evolution of this unique system.

In the late 19th century, a new concept emerged – that children who committed crimes should be treated differently than adults due to their potential for rehabilitation and the notion that their actions result from immaturity rather than inherent criminality. This idea marked the birth of the juvenile justice system.

Juvenile courts were established to focus on the best interests of the child, offering guidance and rehabilitation rather than punishment. It was believed that the system could mold and support young offenders to become law-abiding adults.

Landmark Juvenile Cases

Over the years, the juvenile justice system has seen its share of landmark cases that shaped its trajectory. One such case was the 1967 ruling in “In re Gault.” This decision granted juvenile defendants the right to legal counsel and due process protections, reinforcing the principle that young individuals have rights and deserve a fair chance at justice.

In 2005, the case “Roper v. Simmons” established that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crime. This decision highlighted the belief in the potential for rehabilitation and the reduced culpability of juveniles compared to adults.

Despite these landmark decisions emphasizing the importance of treating juveniles differently, there are instances where young offenders are subject to a process known as “juvenile waiver,” which allows them to be tried as adults in adult courts. The decision to waive a juvenile to adult court is a weighty one, guided by specific criteria in the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

The California Welfare and Institutions Code 707A Criteria

California Welfare and Institutions Code 707A is a set of criteria that guide the decision to waive a juvenile’s case to adult court. Understanding these criteria is essential for legal professionals and psychologists involved in juvenile delinquency disposition cases.

These criteria stipulate that a minor who is 16 years or older and is alleged to have committed a crime listed under Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b) may be considered for a waiver to adult court. The crimes under 707(b) encompass serious and violent offenses, including murder, rape, and robbery. It’s important to note that not all cases meeting these criteria will automatically be waived to adult court; it remains a discretionary decision.

The 707A criteria also allows the court to consider factors like the minor’s prior delinquent history, whether previous attempts at rehabilitation within the juvenile system have been unsuccessful, amenability to treatment, mental state (age, maturity, presence of a psychiatric or cognitive condition) at the time of the offense, adverse psychosocial factors, and potential for rehabilitation. These criteria provide a framework for evaluating the potential risks and benefits of processing a juvenile as an adult.

The decision to waive a minor to adult court is significant, as it involves a profound shift in the legal treatment of the youth, with potential long-term consequences. It is a decision that requires careful assessment and expert evaluation, taking into account not only the alleged crime but also the minor’s background and potential for rehabilitation.

Our Approach to Juvenile Transfer Cases

In cases where juvenile waiver to adult court is being considered, the role of forensic psychologists becomes pivotal. Our experts can be tasked with opining on the basic tenets of the 707A criteria: The minor’s criminal sophistication and amenability to treatment.

When assessing sophistication, we evaluate factors such as the impact of any mental health conditions, intellectual/cognitive capacity, and the minor’s age and maturity at the time of the offense. In addition, we can evaluate the minor’s capacity or lack thereof to appreciate the risks and consequences of their choices and delinquent behavior. Moreover, we commonly evaluate the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACES), the minor’s family/home environment, and peer pressure on the minor’s functioning or behavior.

When assessing treatment amenability, we follow the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model. The RNR is based on three principles:

  1. The risk principle asserts that criminal behavior can be reliably predicted and that the level of treatment should be matched to the minor’s risk of re-offending.
  2. The need principle outlines the importance of criminogenic needs and targets them in treatment; and
  3. The responsivity principle describes how the treatment should be provided.

Thus, our psychologists will review and analyze risk and protective factors relevant to recidivism and violence risk, noting targeted interventions to potentially reduce such a likelihood.

A thorough psychological evaluation with appropriate tests and measures can provide crucial insights into the minor’s sophistication and amenability to treatment, helping the court make an informed decision. Our forensic psychologists approach the evaluation with professionalism and compassion, ensuring that the minor’s well-being is considered throughout the process.

Advocating for Informed and Just Decisions

The process of juvenile waiver to adult court is complex and significant, shaped by a rich history of evolving legal standards and landmark cases. It is guided by case law and relevant and specific statutes, including those outlined in the California Welfare and Institutions Code 707A, which help ensure that the decision is made with a comprehensive understanding of the minor’s circumstances and functional maturity.

As the system navigates the nuances of juvenile waiver cases, it is our responsibility to advocate for informed and just decisions. This involves recognizing the potential for rehabilitation in young offenders and acknowledging the impact of their adverse experiences on their behavior.

Contact our office for more information about our approach to transfer evaluations. Call us at (626) 709-3494 or email support@vpg-corp.com.