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Kent v. United States (1966)One of the first major juvenile rights cases that began to reform juvenile courts was Kent v. United States (1966). The decision established the universal precedents of requiring waiver hearings before juveniles could be transferred to the jurisdiction of a criminal court (except by legislative automatic waivers as discussed in this and other chapters, although reverse waiver hearings must be conducted at the juvenile’s request) and of juveniles being entitled to consult with counsel before and during such hearings (Grisso, 1998).The facts of the case are that in 1959, Morris A. Kent, Jr., a 14-year-old in the District of Columbia, was apprehended as the result of several housebreakings and attempted purse snatchings. He was placed on probation in the custody of his mother. In 1961, an intruder entered the apartment of a woman, took her wallet, and raped her. Fingerprints at the crime scene were later identified as those of Morris Kent, who had been fingerprinted when apprehended for housebreaking in 1959. On September 5, 1961, Kent, now age 16, was taken into custody and interrogated for seven hours by the police. Kent admitted guilt and even volunteered information about other housebreakings, robberies, and rapes. Although the records are unclear about when Kent’s mother became aware of his arrest, she obtained counsel for Kent shortly after 2:00 P.M. the following day. She and her attorney conferred with the Social Service Director of the Juvenile Court and learned there was a possibility Kent would be waived to criminal court. Kent’s attorney advised the Director of his intention to oppose the waiver.Kent was detained in a Receiving Home for one week. During that period, there was no arraignment and no determination by a judicial officer of the probable cause for Kent’s arrest. His attorney filed the motion with the juvenile court opposing the waiver as well as a request to inspect records relating to Kent’s previous offenses. Also, a psychiatric examination of Kent was arranged by his attorney, who argued that because his client was “a victim of severe psychopathology,” it would be in Kent’s best interests to remain within juvenile court jurisdiction, where he could receive adequate treatment in a hospital and would be a suitable subject for rehabilitation (Kent v. United States, 1966, p. 545).Typical of juvenile court judges at the time, the judge in this case failed to rule on any of Kent’s attorney’s motions. He also failed to confer with Kent’s attorney and/or parents. In a somewhat arrogant manner, the juvenile court judge declared that “after full investigation, I do hereby waive” jurisdiction of Kent and directed that he be “held for trial for [the alleged] offenses under the regular procedure of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia” (Kent v. United States, 1966, p. 546). The judge offered no findings, nor did he recite any reason for the waiver or make mention of Kent’s attorney’s motions. Kent was later found guilty of six counts of housebreaking by a federal jury, although the jury found him “not guilty by reason of insanity” on the rape charge. Because of District of Columbia law, it was mandatory that Kent be transferred to a mental institution until such time as his sanity was restored. On each of the housebreaking counts, Kent’s sentence was 5 to 15 years, or a total of 30 to 90 years in prison. His mental institution commitment would be counted as time served against the 30- to 90-year sentence.FOCUS ON DELINQUENCYA vacant building in Baltimore, Maryland, was the scene of a fatal shooting that led to the death of a 14-year-old boy. Police were summoned to the vacant building by a passersby who noticed a hole in a large fence and what appeared to be a fire in one of the upper floors of the building. When police arrived at the scene, they saw smoke coming out of a second-story window of the building and investigated. As they climbed the stairs of the building, they suddenly heard movement and yelling coming from above them. They entered the second story and came face to face with five persons who were wearing hooded sweatshirts. One person reached in his pocket and pulled out a shiny object that police believed to be a weapon. They drew their own pistols and fired several shots, wounding three of the persons. A third threw his hands over his head and lay on the floor. One suspect appeared to be bleeding profusely. As police approached, they observed that the bleeding person had been shot in the head and was dead. The other suspects were wounded in their chests and upper arms. Emergency vehicles were summoned, and the wounded persons were treated at a nearby hospital. The persons turned out to be five juveniles, aged 15 to 17. They were using the vacant building to do drugs. What was believed to be a firearm turned out to be a crack pipe. The surviving youth were charged with criminal trespass and possession of controlled substances, including crack cocaine and a firearm, which was in the pocket of the youth who surrendered and lay on the floor. The firearm was an unloaded .22 pistol. The youth were being held in juvenile detention pending a hearing. A background check of the youth revealed gang affiliations and lengthy juvenile records.REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS: Drugs and delinquents, compounded by gangs and guns, present a serious problem to communities and police. What are some policy approaches for preventing and responding to incidents similar to this one in Baltimore, Maryland?Consider these two cases of murder: (1) 16-year-old Jacob Brighton shot and killed his parents, 47-year-old Richard Brighton and 46-year-old Penny Brighton in Fort Pierce, Florida. In August 2007, Jacob was indicted by a grand jury on first-degree murder charges. Deputies who went to the Brighton home following reports of gunshots found Jacob, who flagged them down. “I’ve shot my parents. There’s no point in rescue. They’re dead,” he said. No motive for the shootings was given. (2) 17-year-old Freddy Tellez, of Hailey, Idaho, was arrested by police following the murder of his 16-year-old girlfriend, Margarita Guardado. Guardado was struck in the head with a blunt object and then her body was set on fire. Tellez faces life in prison if convicted. No motive was given for the murder.REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS: How would you characterize the nature of these murders? Can murders such as these be prevented? How should the Juvenile Justice System handle youth like Brighton and Tellez?Source: Associated Press (June 24, 2008). “Four Youths Arrested for Drugs; One Killed”; Yahoo Sports (August 22, 2007); West Palm Beach Florida News (September 12, 2007). “Boy Says He Shot Parents Because He ‘Let Them Down’” (retrieved from; Times-News (March 14, 2008). “Tellez Pleads Guilty to Murder of Teen” (retrieved from’s conviction was later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court on a vote of 5–4. This is significant, because it revealed a subtle shift in Supreme Court sentiment relating to juvenile rights. The majority held that Kent’s rights to due process and to the effective assistance of counsel had been violated when he was denied a formal hearing on the waiver and his attorney’s motions were ignored. It is also significant that the Court stressed the phrase “critically important” when referring to the waiver hearing. In adult cases, critical stages are those that relate to the defendant’s potential loss of freedoms (i.e., incarceration), and because of the Kent decision, waiver hearings are now critical stages. Regarding the absence of effective assistance of counsel, this was also regarded by the Court as a “critically important” decision. The Court observed that the right to representation by counsel is not a formality. It is not a grudging gesture to a ritualistic requirement. It is of the essence of justice. . . . Appointment of counsel without affording an opportunity for a hearing on a ‘critically important’ decision is tantamount to a denial of counsel. (383 U.S. at 561)Reference page entry:Merlo, A., Benekos, P., & Champion, D.J. (2016). The juvenile justice system: delinquency, processing, and the law (8th ed.)