The Legal Rights of Juveniles

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  • 0:03 Background
  • 2:10 Trial Rights
  • 3:37 Appellate Rights
  • 4:52 Differences in Rights
  • 5:37 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 legal rights of juveniles in the United States. We will look at the rights awarded to juveniles and how they are applied in society today.


When a juvenile breaks the law in the United States, he is entitled to several constitutional rights. During this lesson, we will learn about what these rights are and how they are important. Let's start by looking at pretrial rights.

One of the pretrial rights afforded to juveniles is the right to a Miranda warning. This warning is given by a police officer to juveniles who are taken into custody after being accused of committing a crime. The Miranda warning is important because it ensures the admissibility of any statements the juvenile may make in later court proceedings. Before this warning existed, juveniles had no such advance notice. The Miranda Warning is well-known to the common public in the United States, thanks to legal and police shows on television. This warning warns a juvenile that:

  • He has the right to remain silent
  • That anything he says can be used against him in court
  • That he has the right to a lawyer
  • That if he cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for him

After being given a Miranda warning, if the juvenile agrees to continue talking with the police officer, then it is called waiving one's Miranda rights.

Another pretrial right afforded to juveniles is the right to receive a complaint. The complaint lays out what the juvenile has been charged with and what he is facing in court. This is an important right for a juvenile to have because it provides adequate knowledge and details about what the juvenile is alleged to have done wrong, which is imperative to preparing for the hearing.

The last pretrial right afforded to juveniles is the right to have an attorney. An attorney answers any questions a juvenile may have and represents their legal rights in court. Attorneys will talk with the juvenile and explain how the process works. The attorney will then stand up and speak for the juvenile in court, defending the juvenile against the charges he is facing.

Trial Rights

The juvenile has a right to a trial. A trial is when two parties, a prosecutor representing the government and a defense attorney representing the juvenile, meet in court before a judge or jury in order to present evidence to support their case. The purpose of trials in the United States is to ensure that a juvenile accused of a crime receives a fair and impartial evaluation of the situation in order to determine if he is guilty or not.

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.

In every state, the juvenile has a right against self-incrimination. This means that a juvenile does not have to say anything at all in court. He does not have to answer any questions posed to him by the prosecutor in court; he does not have to testify and does not have to present any witnesses. This is important because it is the role of the prosecutor to prove that the juvenile committed the crime, not the job of the juvenile to prove that he didn't commit the offense.

Appellate Rights

A juvenile has a right to appeal, or judicial review of the trial court's proceedings during the guilt and punishment phases. An appeal is not a new trial - the purpose is for the juvenile to ask a higher court to review arguments of issues not raised at the trial court level. There are many issues that could be raised on appeal: the failure of a trial court to rule on a certain motion, the trial court's denial of a motion, or even a trial court's verdict or sentence.

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