St. Mary's Law Journal


Kent v. United States was the first in a series of majority decisions by the United States Supreme Court which fixed constitutional minimum requirements for the juvenile justice system. This decision follows case law establishing the adjudication phase of the process: a right to notice of charges, to confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses, not to be compelled to incriminate oneself, and to counsel. Shortly afterwards, the Court established the constitutional requirement the government must prove its charges in juvenile court beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the Court determined the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution applies in the juvenile process. In 1959, the juvenile court for the District of Columbia adopted a policy statement announcing the criteria it would employ in making transfer decisions when moving cases from the juvenile court to the District Court. Judicial transfer processes of the Kent style are based on the procedures required by the Court in the Kent case and almost three-fourths of the juvenile systems in the United States. In Texas, the juvenile court may transfer any fifteen- or sixteen-year-old charged with a felony in juvenile court to criminal court for prosecution as an adult. The juvenile court is required to give a statement of reasons for its transfer decision. It is also to be guided by statutory criteria which are closely based on the criteria outlined in Kent. If the Kent criteria are intended to guide juvenile court judges in making transfer decisions, they fail to do so in practice. It is not as though juvenile courts ignore the criteria or the criteria are unworkable. The same factors have already been employed by prosecutors in selecting cases in which to file transfer motions, thus making further winnowing of cases using the same criteria difficult.


St. Mary's University School of Law