Does a Juvenile Have a Right to Bail?
Does a Juvenile Have a Right to Bail?
The question of whether juveniles should have a right to bail is a complicated one. There are good arguments on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, it comes down to how we as a society view the purpose of the juvenile justice system – is it about punishment and accountability, or rehabilitation and second chances? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key considerations around juveniles and bail.
The History of Juvenile Bail
Bail has traditionally been seen as a fundamental right in the American criminal justice system. The 8th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits excessive bail. So in the adult system, reasonable bail is supposed to be set in most cases. However, the juvenile system has always been viewed a little differently.Originally, the first juvenile courts established in the late 1800s were intended to focus on rehabilitating young offenders, not punishing them like adults. Judges had a lot of flexibility in sentencing. Bail was not considered a right. Rather, judges could decide to release a juvenile before their trial, taking into account factors like their home environment and likelihood to re-offend.Over time, as juvenile crime rates increased in the 1980s and 90s, more states began passing “get tough” laws that made the juvenile system look more like the adult one. Some states introduced laws requiring juveniles charged with certain violent crimes to be tried as adults. Other states set limits on judges’ discretion, including around bail.So nowadays, bail laws for juveniles vary quite a bit across the country. And there are good-faith arguments on both sides.
Arguments for Allowing Juvenile Bail
Here are some of the reasons why many argue juveniles should have the same bail rights as adults:
- Fairness and consistency – Allowing bail seems fundamentally fair, and treating juveniles like adults in this regard creates consistency across the justice system.
- Upholds 8th Amendment – Bail is supposed to be prohibited only in rare circumstances, so broadly eliminating it for juveniles could violate their Constitutional rights.
- Avoids penalizing poverty – Many juveniles rely on their families for bail money. Denying bail penalizes poor juveniles whose families can’t afford to pay.
- Presumption of innocence – Like adults, juveniles are innocent until proven guilty. So they should have the chance to await trial at home, instead of being penalized before conviction.
- Incentivizes court appearance – Requiring bail encourages juveniles to show up for court dates, rather than fleeing.
- Avoids over-crowded detention centers – Eliminating bail leads more juveniles to be detained pre-trial, which strains the system.
Arguments Against Juvenile Bail
However, there are also good reasons why many argue bail should not be a juvenile right:
- Prioritizes rehabilitation – The juvenile system is intended to rehabilitate youth, so detention may serve this goal better than release.
- Protects public safety – Some juveniles may be risks to public safety if released – so detention protects the community.
- Prevents recidivism – Detaining juveniles prevents them from committing new crimes before their trial. Recidivism rates for juveniles on bail are high.
- Considers juveniles’ best interests – Judges should determine if release or detention better serves a juvenile’s interests – a blanket bail right prevents this.
- Reflects reduced juvenile culpability – The law recognizes juveniles as less culpable, so they arguably shouldn’t have an absolute right to bail like adults.
- Allows parental involvement – Denying bail enables parents to be more involved in their child’s rehabilitation.
- Saves taxpayer dollars – It’s cheaper for the state to detain juveniles rather than monitor them out on bail.
How Some States Handle Juvenile Bail
Given these competing arguments, states take different approaches to juvenile bail. Here are a few examples that illustrate the spectrum:
- Florida – Bail can only be denied for juveniles charged with capital crimes like murder. For all other crimes, reasonable bail must be set.
- Michigan – Juveniles have a right to bail except in murder cases. But bail can be denied if the court finds it likely the juvenile would commit new crimes if released.
- California – Juvenile bail is prohibited for certain serious offenses like murder, rape, and robbery. For other crimes, bail is discretionary based on public safety factors.
- Arizona – Juvenile bail is prohibited entirely. Courts can authorize release for rehabilitation purposes, but bail bonds cannot be used.
Specific Cases Where Bail Was Denied
Looking at real cases where bail was denied illuminates some of the complexities:
- In Arizona in 2018, a 16-year-old was charged with child abuse for severely injuring his infant. The judge denied bail to protect public safety.
- In Michigan in 2008, four teens were denied bail after vandalizing graves in a Jewish cemetery. The judge cited their lack of parental oversight.
- In California in 2019, a 17-year-old charged with shooting a sheriff’s deputy was denied bail. The judge felt he posed “a significant and unreasonable risk to public safety.”
How Might Reforms Balance the Issues?
Ultimately, there are good-faith arguments on both sides of this issue. How might we balance the rehabilitative goals of juvenile justice with concerns for public safety? Here are a few reform ideas:
- Set guidelines for denying bail – Allow bail except in cases of murder, rape, violent felonies, or clear public safety risks. Require specific findings denying bail.
- Expand pretrial services – Provide supervision, counseling, electronic monitoring to juveniles released pretrial. This could reduce recidivism and FTAs.
- Assess flight risk and dangerousness – Make individualized determinations. Don’t deny bail based on crime alone. Weigh the juvenile’s likelihood of appearing in court or staying crime-free.
- Expedite trials for detained juveniles – Reduce potential harm from denying bail by fast-tracking cases where juveniles are detained pretrial.
- Guarantee parental involvement – Make bail contingent on intensive parental supervision, counseling, etc. to reduce risks.
- Collect better data – Track outcomes like recidivism rates, flight risk, failure-to-appear numbers to guide reform.
The research shows there are pros and cons to giving juveniles a right to bail versus allowing judges to deny bail. With careful, evidence-based reforms, we can hopefully find the right balance for the goals of community safety and juvenile rehabilitation. The system should consider juveniles’ unique developmental needs while also protecting the public.