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Prosecuting Adolescents in Criminal Courts: Criminal or Juvenile Justice?

Aaron Kupchik
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2003.50.3.439 439-460 First published online: 1 August 2003


Previous sociological research on courts has studied how court actors mobilize models of justice to shape court proceedings, yet no research examines how court actors approach cases of adolescents who are prosecuted in criminal (adult) courts. These cases raise a potential incongruity between a traditional 20th century "juvenile justice" model that focuses on rehabilitating individuals, and a traditional "criminal justice" model that focuses on punishment in proportion to severity of offenses. Drawing on observational research in a specialized criminal court that prosecutes adolescents, and on interviews of courtroom decision-makers, this article finds that court actors settle this incongruity by bifurcating court proceedings into two phases. They follow a criminal justice model during the initial phase of court proceedings, and a juvenile justice model during the latter, sentencing phase. They thus create a hybrid form of justice by implementing a sequential justice model, rather than relying solely on either a juvenile or a criminal model of justice throughout case processing. The results suggest that categorizations often applied to the contrast between juvenile and criminal courts may be misleading.

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