Comparison of the Juvenile & Adult Systems of Justice

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  • 0:02 Background
  • 0:31 Differences
  • 3:11 Similarities
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the similarities and differences between the juvenile and adult systems of justice. We will look at the different steps of the justice process and where the differences lie between the two.


There are many similarities and differences between the treatment of a juvenile and an adult in the criminal justice system. In this lesson, we will take a look at both.

The differences include:

  • Arrest terminology
  • Bond availability
  • Jury use
  • Sentencing

The similarities include:

  • Miranda warning rights
  • The right to have witness testimony
  • The right against self-incrimination


When an adult gets into trouble for committing a crime, he is arrested or taken out of the public and held at a county jail. This is where the first difference between the juvenile and adult system becomes apparent. In an effort to de-criminalize juvenile's actions, the justice system uses different words to describe the events of the criminal process when it involves a juvenile. For example, the word 'arrest' is not used in the juvenile justice system. Rather, a juvenile is 'taken into custody.' These two different words describe the exact same event.

When an adult defendant is arrested for a crime or is charged with a crime, bond is set for him. Bond is a monetary amount or non-monetary set of conditions for a defendant established by a judge that ensures the defendant's presence at court hearings. Bond ensures that the defendant will show for future hearings and for trial. This is where the second difference comes in. A juvenile does not have a right to bond. In fact, a juvenile can be held in custody throughout the entire court process without having bond. The only circumstance in which a juvenile would have a right to bond is if his case were serious enough to be transferred into the adult system.

A third difference is the right to a jury. Adults have the constitutional right to select a jury to hear their case if it goes to trial. However, in most states, a juvenile does not have a right to a jury trial, unless he is facing a bindover. A bindover is a proceeding to determine if the juvenile should be tried as an adult in court instead of as a minor. Bindovers are mainly done in serious cases, such as murder. Therefore, most juvenile cases are tried in front of a judge. This is called a bench trial. At the conclusion of a trial, an adult is either found 'guilty' or 'not guilty' of the offense. In the juvenile system, the verbage used is 'adjudicated' (found guilty) or 'not adjudicated' (found not guilty).

Lastly, if an adult is found guilty after a verdict, then he is sentenced. This is where the defendant finds out the punishment for his offense. This is very different in the juvenile system. In the juvenile system, a case is disposed of and the purpose of that disposition is not to punish a juvenile who has been adjudicated of the offense - the point is to find a good avenue to rehabilitate him.

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