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Posted on July 31st, 2012, by

The modern juvenile justice system faces a number of problems when the problem of age restriction arises. In actuality, there are certain differences in age restrictions between states. To put it more precisely, some states, namely Kansas and Vermont, set the minimum age as low as ten, while the most common age is 14 (Braithwaite, 1995). In such a way, the age at which juvenile offenders can be transferred to the criminal court may vary depending on the state. As a result, the problem arises since one and the same offense committed by a juvenile can be treated differently in different states depending on the age of the offender. Hence, an 11-years old offender in Kansas can potentially face a risk of being tried by the criminal court while in other states, but Vermont, he or she will fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. In addition, existing age restrictions still leave the room for decisions being taken by a judge, prosecutor, or juveniles can be transferred to criminal justice courts on the basis of statutory exclusion (Mones, 1991). In most states, cases referred to juvenile court can be transferred to criminal court upon the authorization of the juvenile court judge. Alternatively, in some states, a combination of an offender’s age, offense and prior record places certain juvenile offenders under the jurisdiction of both juvenile and criminal court and it is the prosecutor who has the authority to decide which court will initially handle the case. Furthermore, many states exclude by statute many serious or violent crimes from juvenile court jurisdiction, providing the offender meets a minimum age requirements (Barak, 1998). As a result, juvenile offenders can fall under either juvenile court jurisdiction or criminal court jurisdiction. Age restrictions may vary depending on the state. Along with offense committed by juvenile offenders, age restrictions influence whether juveniles fall under juvenile or criminal court jurisdiction that naturally influences the punishment and the court rule.

In such a situation, the juvenile justice systems need the development of the policy which clearly defines age restrictions nationwide because the diversity of age restrictions raises the problem of different punishment for juvenile offenders depending on local legal norms and age restrictions concerning juvenile offenders (Clement, 2002). The development of the homogeneous policy and setting common age restrictions for all states will contribute to the elaboration of common principles and norms applied to juvenile offenders. In other words, common age restrictions set nationwide will not allow juvenile offenders being transferred to criminal court in some states and to juvenile court in others as they are transferred now. Hence, juvenile offenders will be treated equally in all states that will solve the problem of unjust attitude to juveniles, when they can be tried by criminal court in some states that implies more severe punishment, while in other courts they can be tried by juvenile court, which normally implies less severe punishment, if an offender is plead guilty.

The implementation of the new policy will need the harmonization of the legislation and elaboration of age restrictions which have to be applied at the federal level. To balance age restrictions, it is necessary to involve representatives of both juvenile and criminal justice systems from all states and through their collaboration they can define age restrictions acceptable to all states.

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