Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

These Aren't My Peers: Why Illinois Should Reconsider Its Age Requirement for Jury Service

Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

These Aren't My Peers: Why Illinois Should Reconsider Its Age Requirement for Jury Service

Article excerpt


The first juvenile court was created in Cook County, Illinois in 1899.1 It was initially established to protect juvenile offenders from the adult criminal process.2 As such, the juvenile court was designed to focus more on the welfare of the juvenile offender and less on retribution for the offense.3 Over time, the general public began to feel that the juvenile court was too lenient. This shift in public opinion ushered in a more formalized stmcture in the 1960s, mimicking that of the adult criminal court.4

The juvenile court has always retained judicial discretion to transfer certain cases into adult criminal courts.5 An increase in violent crimes committed by juveniles during the 1980s and 1990s led many states to take a more retributive approach to juvenile justice. Punishment rather than rehabilitation became the primary goal.6 States began to enact statutes that made waiver to criminal courts easier.7 Such statutes included the enactment of prosecutorial discretion, automatic waivers, and mandatory sentences.8 From 1987 to 1994, the number of juvenile cases waived into adult criminal court increased by 73%.9 This trend hit its peak in 1997.10 Since that time, the number of transfers has decreased nationally. In 2012, however, Chicago hit a five-year high for the number of seventeen-year-old adolescents tried as adults.* 11

Once waived into adult criminal court, juveniles are afforded all of the rights of adult criminal defendants, including the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.12 The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to jury trial includes a right to a jury of the defendant's peers.13 The increased practice of waiving juveniles into adult criminal court has resulted in defendants as young as ten years old being tried in adult criminal courts. However, the minimum age to serve on a jury in most states still remains eighteen. Thus, courts systematically exclude juvenile defendants' peers from the juries deciding their cases. This systematic exclusion of jurors of the same age as these juvenile defendants violates the Sixth Amendment's fundamental right to a trial by a jury of one's peers.

This Note will first explain the various ways by which juveniles end up on trial in adult criminal court. It addresses the different mechanisms used to transfer juveniles to criminal courts and specifically identifies which of these mechanisms are present in the Illinois juvenile court system. Second, this Note details the national landscape of jury age requirements. It touches on the consistency and rigidity with which these age requirements are enforced. It also illustrates how waivers are handled in Illinois. Third, this Note analyzes possible constitutional challenges to Illinois' minimum age requirement for jury service in light of the number of juvenile defendants in Illinois criminal courts. Fourth, this Note outlines policy reasons for why Illinois should consider lowering its juror age requirement to fifteen years old. Finally, this note evaluates and addresses arguments against having juveniles ages fifteen to seventeen years old serve on juries.

I. Waiving Juveniles Into Adult Criminal Court

A. Background

Waiver refers to the transfer of a juvenile offender from the juvenile court system into adult criminal court. Waivers are a matter of state law and thus are established through state statutes. States vary on the minimum age at which a juvenile can be waived into adult criminal court. Though most states have set the minimum age for waiver in the range of fourteen to sixteen years old, in some states the minimum age is as low as ten years old.14 There are several mechanisms by which a juvenile may be waived into adult criminal court, including judicial waiver, prosecutorial waiver, statutory exclusion, the "once an adult, always an adult" policy, and emancipation from parental custody.

1. Judicial Waiver

Judicial waiver is the most popular mechanism used to waive a juvenile into adult criminal court. …

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