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Justice, Jr.: The Case for a New Form of Juvenile Jury Trials in Vermont

Justice, Jr.: The Case for a New Form of Juvenile Jury Trials in Vermont

Elijah LaChance 

The right to trial by jury is a cornerstone of the Anglo-American legal system. Its importance is constantly present in history, from Ancient Greece, to the Magna Carta, to the United States Constitution.[1] Until 1899, American courts tried adults and children together in a single system.[2] However, a new juvenile jury system arose in order to foster leniency towards juvenile defendants, and to shield them from publicity.[3] A counter-movement arose in the 1960s that argued the juvenile justice system was fundamentally flawed because it denied juveniles their Constitutional right to a jury trial.[4] However, in 1971, the United States Supreme Court ruled in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments did not grant juveniles the right to jury trials.[5]

In response, 20 states have set up various forms of juvenile jury trials.[6] In Massachusetts, youth are tried by jury in delinquency cases unless the child files a written waiver and consents to be tried by the court without a jury.[7] New Hampshire youth have a waivable right to a trial by jury if, and only if, they meet “the criteria for commitment to an adult correctional facility” and their “disposition includes an order of conditional release extending beyond the juvenile’s age of majority,” a much more restrictive system.[8] In Vermont, however, juveniles have no right to a jury trial.[9] Vermont restricts this right in order to protect juveniles’ confidentiality.[10] However, by so doing, Vermont denies its own legal heritage, which grants a broad range of powers through the Common Benefits Clause in the Vermont Constitution not found in the Sixth or Fourteenth Amendments.[11] It also denies the state’s social heritage, which includes juveniles in the regular proceedings and activities of the community.[12]

This Note will propose a system that balances the need to respect the privacy of juveniles and return them to society as productive individuals with the principle that every person—regardless of age—has a right to be tried by more than one person. Judges are extraordinary people, but they are only people—a form of jury trial is required to guard against potential bias.[13] Therefore, this Note presents a system by which the local juvenile court judge serves as law giver (the traditional role of the judge) and the role of fact-finder is filled by three specially-trained professionals in law, education, or social science. Not only would this specialist jury determine guilt, but it could also overrule a judge’s sentence, by unanimous vote, as being either too harsh or too lenient. This system balances the injustice of an unfair trial against the potential of publicity to equally scar a young life. In so doing, it could move Vermont one step closer to true juvenile justice.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at

[1] Korine L. Larsen, Comment, With Liberty and Juvenile Justice for All: Extending the Right to a Jury Trial to the Juvenile Courts, 20 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 835, 836 (1994).

[2] Cart Rixey, Note, The Ultimate Disillusionment: The Need for Jury Trials in Juvenile Adjudications, 58 Cath. U. L. Rev. 885, 886 (2009).

[3] Julian W. Mack, The Juvenile Court, 23 Harv. L. Rev. 104, 106 (1909).

[4] Joseph B. Sanborn, Jr., The Right to a Public Jury Trial: A Need for Today’s Juvenile Court, 76 Judicature 230, 231 (1993).

[5] McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 528 (1971).

[6] Jennifer M. Segadelli, Minding the Gap: Extending Adult Jury Trial Rights to Adolescents While Maintaining a Childhood Commitment to Rehabilitation, 8 Seattle J. for Soc. Just. 683, 685 (2010) (the 20 states are: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming).

[7] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 119, § 55A (2014).

[8] N.H. REV. STAT. § 169-B:19(III-c).

[9] Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5110 (2009).

[10] Id.

[11] Lynne D. Wardle, The Curious Case of the Missing Legal Analysis, 18 BYU J. Pub. L. 309, 312 (2004).

[12] See Gene I. Maeroff, School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy 168 (2d. ed. 2010) (noting Vermont’s unparalleled record of including juveniles on school boards and in other community decision-making bodies).

[13] Charles Gardner Geyh, The Dimensions of Judicial Impartiality, 65 Fla. L. Rev. 493, 499 (2013).

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