The Youthful Offender
Juvenile Defense – Causes, Consequences, and Constitutional Rights
The defense of a young offender or juvenile accused poses different problems than those of a mature defendant. Some of the problems are systemic. The juvenile courts evolved from an exclusive concern for the interests of the child to a hybrid concern for the protection of the juvenile’s constitutional rights and a determination of appropriate punishment. It is in the interplay of these sometimes conflicting goals that the juvenile’s defense must be developed. In some respects it mirrors the defense of an adult; in others it is quite different.
For example, the motivation for the commission of a juvenile crime or violation of school regulations must be explored in far greater depth than would be necessary for an adult accused. The motivations of bank robbers, burglars and tax evaders may be unalloyed greed. The motivations of youthful offenders are rarely that simple. The causes of youthful crime usually arise from the cultural environment in which they live, the pressure of peer groups, their reaction to authority; the stress and anxiety of life at home; their experimentation with psychoactive drugs.
A mature offender may have weighed the risks of apprehension and its likely consequences against the gain from the criminal act. The youthful offender will only rarely engage in this calculus. The youthful offender’s understanding of criminal justice will have come from what he learns from his peers and what he sees on television. A youthful offender living in a climate of violence may have no understanding of its consequences to his victim.