Is the criminal justice system the same for juveniles as for adults?

There is a mixed yes/no component in the answer to the above-posed headline query in our blog post today.

On the one hand, many of the laws and processes relevant to matters like arrests, custody, interrogation, criminal charging and so forth are indeed the same or closely similar.

Conversely, though, it is also true that there is much that is fundamentally different about how authorities handle juvenile criminal cases. The American legal system has long recognized – and with progressively growing appreciation – that young people who are not yet adults shouldn’t typically be treated as if they are.

An exhaustive amount of credible study and research indicates that adolescents, unlike older people, are far from fully evolved in their mental faculties. They are literally learning as they go. The tremendous potential attached to youth is coupled with predictable lapses in judgment and failed appreciation for downside consequences.

That reality is underscored routinely by stories from across the Bay Area and nationally spotlighting juvenile behavior across a broad spectrum that is denoted as criminal conduct. At the Law Office of John W. Noonan, we have worked diligently for decades as advocates for young offenders charged with wide-ranging offenses. Those range from drinking offenses, drug possession and assault to theft, weapons charges and sex crimes.

The emphasis in many such matters is often – and rightly so – on accountability that allows for learning and a second chance. Rehabilitation rather than mere punishment is often an optimal recipe for lowered recidivism and a truly just outcome.

A recently proposed San Francisco ordinance focuses closely on how teens and even younger offenders interact with the criminal justice system. The would-be law calls for a protective expansion of existing state law addressing juvenile protections. We will take a look at its specifics in our next blog post.

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