In Loco Juvenile Justice: Minors in Munis, Cash from Kids, and Adolescent Pro Se Advocacy – Ferguson and Beyond
50 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2015
Date Written: March 1, 2015
In recent years many have challenged the imposition of lengthy adult prison terms for kids convicted of serious crimes. Given their special vulnerabilities, advocates argue young felony offenders should have their cases handled in our country’s specialized juvenile courts where they might receive age-appropriate interventions intended to support redirection and development. However, these conversations have largely overlooked another set of legal venues and their juvenile justice implications - those adjudicating low-level offenses such as local traffic and ordinance violations. Thus, there has been little scholarly, judicial, or advocacy address of the phenomenon of prosecuting minors in municipal courts.
This essay calls for greater attention to the issue. It does so in the wake of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri which have generated wide-spread agreement that local courts need to change the ways they process, prosecute, and punish low-level ordinance violations. Indeed, as the nation has now learned, aggressive pursuit of fines and court fees through traffic cases and related quality-of-life actions are one of the most troubling aspects of life for many poor residents in St. Louis and beyond. Yet, juveniles – youth under the age of eighteen – are a population whose experiences have received almost no attention in the course of these critiques and recent calls for reform.
This article fills that gap by opposing prosecution of minors in municipal courts – venues largely focused on financial enrichment of the localities they serve. It explains that municipal courts frequently deploy localized punitive practices against children that work to displace state and federal standards intended to protect them from harm, including taking cash from kids. Thus it urges rejection of in loco juvenile justice practices and instead argues youth – as a matter of common sense and constitutional doctrine – should have a right to juvenile court as venue of first resort.
Keywords: juvenile, criminal, municipal courts, youth, sentencing, due process, certification
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