What's Wrong with Victims' Rights in Juvenile Court?: Retributive v. Rehabilitative Systems of Justice
65 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2008 Last revised: 27 Oct 2010
While scholars have written extensively about the victim's rights movement in capital and criminal cases, there has been very little discussion about the intersection of victim's rights and the juvenile justice system. Statutes that allow victims to attend juvenile hearings and present oral and written impact statements have shifted the juvenile court's priorities and altered the way judges think about young offenders. While judges were once primarily concerned with the best interests of the delinquent child, victim's rights legislation now requires juvenile courts to balance the rehabilitative needs of the child with other competing interests such as accountability to the victim and restoration of communities impacted by crime.
In this article, I contend that victim impact statements move the juvenile court too far away from its original mission and ignore the child's often diminished culpability in delinquent behavior. I also argue that victim impact statements delivered in the highly charged environment of the courtroom are unlikely to achieve the satisfaction and catharsis victims seek after crime. To better serve the needs of the victim and the offender, I propose that victim impact statements be excluded from the juvenile disposition hearing and incorporated into the child's long-term treatment plan. Interactive victim awareness programs, such as victim-offender mediation and victim impact panels that take place after disposition, allow victims to express pain and fear to the offender, foster greater empathy and remorse from the child, and encourage forgiveness and reconciliation by the victim. Delaying victim impact statements until after the child's disposition also preserves the child's due process rights at sentencing and allows the court to focus on the child's need for rehabilitation.
Keywords: Criminal law, criminal procedure, juvenile justice, victims rights
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