The Kansas Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today to grant all juveniles facing prosecution the right to a jury trial. “We are undaunted in our belief that juveniles are entitled to the right to a jury trial guaranteed to all citizens under the 6th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” Justice Eric Rosen wrote.
The case arose, reports the Kansas City Star, “after a 16-year-old Finney County, Kan. boy was found guilty of aggravated sexual battery and alcohol possession. The boy’s attorney filed a motion asking for a jury trial, but the request was denied by the district court judge. The boy ultimately appealed his case to the Supreme Court.”
Juvenile cases in the state have for years been handled by a judge without a jury, under the premise that the juvenile court system is categorically different from that serving adults. In that sense, the court’s acknowledgment, though laudable in its extension of constitutional rights to this vulnerable population of young defendants, also serves as a formal acknowledgment that the state’s juvenile justice system is failing in its core responsibility to treat juvenile offenders differently from adult criminals–that is, as a caretaker. Rosen, in fact, noted in his decision that a succession of legislative changes have “eroded” the differences between the two systems, and that the juvenile side as it’s currently configured is “more aligned with legislative intent for adult sentencing statutes.”