Juvenile Courts in the United States

By Herbert H. Lou | Go to book overview

Chapter III
THE JUVENILE-COURT SYSTEM

1. MEANING OF THE JUVENILE COURT

FROM its legal aspect the juvenile court, as its name implies, is a part of the judicial system of the state. Important as the social aspect of the court may be, it still retains its standing as a judicial branch of government. The laity and even the lawyer are apt to look upon the juvenile court as hybrid and its laws as a somewhat heterogeneous mass of legislation which has no apparent correlation with the general legal system. In fact, although the juvenile court concerns itself with social justice rather than strict justice, it is still a court of law--with a new status indeed--intimately bound up with the judicial machinery of the state, and it decides legal questions of social import, such as the custody and disposition of children, which cannot be disposed of in any other way than through the intervention of a court following conscientiously and more or less definitely the established principles of law.

Precisely what is meant by a juvenile court is a difficult question to determine, for the term is much easier described than defined. The inference that a juvenile court signifies a separate court or a separate judge or a separate session of the court or a separate record for children's cases is in respect to many states inaccurate. It is not a juvenile court simply because it is so called in a statute, nor is it a juvenile court simply because it has a separate court room. In some states the session of the court dealing with children is not even termed in the statues "juvenile court," though in all but two states special statutory provision has been made for the trial of some or all juvenile cases.

The juvenile court is not a court of equity or chancery, nor is it a common law court. It is a statutory court and, therefore, its legal definition is to be found in the organic acts of the different states creating it, for statutory courts and their procedure are usually arbitrarily defined and jurisdiction clearly specified therein. In general, we may say that a juvenile court is a court having special jurisdiction of a parental nature over delinquent and neglected children. It

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