Victor Streib


Intentional wrongful convictions in cases involving child offenders may occur when judges have insufficient evidence proving any crime by the child but feel a strong need for the courts to intervene in the child's life and behavior. They believe that the negative factors attached to such a status are worth suffering if the child gains entry into a desired state program. This is wrongfully convicting the child "for the child's own good." Juvenile court judges too often receive knowledge of the child's background and previous record prior to any trial or hearing in order to devise the best result for the child. A jury, however, would never be given that information prior to the trial. The solution here may be to provide for jury trials in juvenile court.

Another cause of these cases is the defense attorney who does not challenge the state's prosecution zealously but who cooperates with the state in shunting the child off to the desired program. We also may not be taking seriously the requirement that children's offenses be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and we should seek means to better insure that it is maintained. Many jurisdictions limit access to the most desirable treatment programs to those children found guilty of an offense in juvenile or criminal court. Simply being found to be a status offender or a child in need of services is not sufficient for admission. This might tempt a judge to wrongly convict a child intentionally as a justifiable means to that desirable end.