Juvenile Courts in the United States

By Herbert H. Lou | Go to book overview

Chapter VI
THE PROCESS BEFORE HEARING

1. NATURE OF JUVENILE-COURT PROCEDURE

THE jurisdiction exercised by juvenile courts is, in general, an application of common law principles, but the way in which the jurisdiction is exercised is new, and the methods of the court in dealing with children who come before it are prescribed neither by the common law nor by the rules of chancery. The proceedings are special and statutory throughout and are in the nature of civil actions.

From the legal point of view, the procedure of the juvenile court is special and statutory, but from the administrative point of view it is socialized and parental in nature. It represents a distinct departure from conventional procedure in criminal courts. In the words of Judge Charles L. Brown, "the fundamental purpose of juvenile-court procedure in delinquency cases is not to determine whether the child has committed a specific offense for which punishment must be inflicted, but to discover whether he is a subject for special protection, care, and guardianship by the community in the same degree as the child who is neglected or homeless."1 In other words, the procedure is intended to approximate the conduct of a wise and tender parent in dealing with a wayward child. For this reason, within the general limits prescribed by statute, it is relatively unhampered by tradition and precedent.

From the point of view of diagnosis and treatment, the procedure of the court is scientific as distinguished from the procedure of a formal criminal court. The method of ascertaining facts and prescribing treatment is departing more and more from that usually sanctioned by law. In getting facts we no longer rely upon a jury and a prosecutor. That becomes the business of scientists and social workers. The technique and principles of science are applied to the study and treatment of delinquency just as they are applied in agriculture or business.

____________________
1
C. L. Brown, The Child and the Court. Address before the Civics Teachers of the Philadelphia Public Schools. 1921, p. 9.

-98-

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