NACDL - Juvenile Justice

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Juvenile Justice

NACDL fully supports the concept that juveniles are different than adults and should be treated as such. NACDL encourages legislators to promote polices that evaluate juvenile family history and brain development prior to developing legislation that could in effect have profound implications on a juvenile's future.

The decision to send a youth to the adult system is a very serious one. Juveniles are different from adults and should be treated as such. The juvenile system is more focused on rehabilitation and provides more support and opportunities for juvenile offenders compared to adult criminal facilities. Substantial research has concluded youth dealt with in the juvenile system are far less likely to commit new crimes than those tried as adults.

Landmark Cases

Roper v. Simmons (2004) - The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that is is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18, stating that it is "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida (2010) - The United States Supreme Court ruled that life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses unconstitutional.

J.D.B v. North Carolina (2010) - Under consideration in this case was whether a child's age is a relevant factor to consider in determining whether the child is in custody for purposes of Miranda v. Arizona. The United States Supreme Court ruled that a child's age must be considered by law enforcement in determining whether Miranda warnings need to be given to children during police interrogations. NACDL Amicus Brief

Miller v. Alabama (2012) - Under consideration in this case was the constitutionality of imposing life without parole sentences on juveniles convicted of homicide offenses. The United States Supreme Court ruled that "mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments' and that a 'judege or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penaly for juveniles.'"

Montgomery v. Louisiana (2015) - Under consideration in this case was whether Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively to individuals serving mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences. In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that their decision in Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively. 

Trial Defense Guidelines

Report cover - Representing a Child Facing Life SentenceNACDL was pleased to assist in the development and sought subsequent Board approval of Trial Defense Guideline: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence. This valuable resource provided defense attorneys with a standard in defending juveniles who are facing the possibility of a life sentence.


In 2012, NACDL hosted several webinars providing essential instruction to defense lawyers representing juveniles. The first webinar series provides instruction on representing juveniles at sentencing in adult court in the post – Roper, Graham and Miller era. Topics include Lessons Learned from Graham v. Florida and Re-sentencing Juveniles Convicted of Homicide Post-Miller.

Representing Juveniles in Adult Court Webinar Series

The second webinar series provides strategies for representing juveniles in adult court. Topics include Communicating with a Juvenile Client: JTIP Lesson on Interviewing and Counseling Youth; Incorporating Adolescent Brain & Behavioral Development Science into All Stages of the Criminal Proceeding; and Strategies for Keeping Youth out of Adult Jails and Prisons: Bail, Sentencing and Post-Sentencing Advocacy.

Age Matters: Strategies for Representing Juveniles in Adult Court Webinar Series

Both series were conducted in partnership with the National Juvenile Defender Center, the Juvenile Law Center, and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, supported by funding from the Foundation for Criminal Justice and the Ford Foundation.

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State Juvenile Justice Reforms & Legislative Tracking

Over the past year there have been several advancements in legislation to transform state juvenile justice systems. Raise the age legislation continues to advance with Missouri raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18-years-old (SB 793 and SB 800). Delaware legislation addressed mandatory minimum sentencing schemes for youth (HB 307), as well as expanded the Juvenile Civil Citation Program to provide law enforcement officers with the discretion to refer any first-time juvenile offender engaged in any misdemeanor-level behavior to the civil citation program (HB 442). Massachusetts passed an omnibus criminal justice reform measure that included critical juvenile justice related measures including creating opportunities for expungement of misdemeanors and most felony offenses before age 21, decriminalizing school-based public order offenses and banning indiscriminate shackling of children in court (S. 2371). To date, Twenty-eight states and Washington, DC ban or do not use life without parole for children.

NJJN 2018 Juvenile Justice Victories CFSY Life Without Parole Map

See below for pending legislation NACDL is tracking related to juvenile justice reform.

Juvenile Justice Legislative Report

Federal Juvenile Justice Legislation

December 2018, Congress passed major juvenile justice reform legislation - the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6964). The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was first signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1974. It is the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002 and expired in 2007. 

More on the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018

There was several bills tackling juvenile justice reforms pending in Congress. This includes legislation to address the use of mandatory minimum sentences on children in the federal system (H.R. 1949) and legislation that would end life (and de facto life) without parole sentences for children (H.R. 1951), bringing the federal government in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama, and Montgomery v. Louisiana. Visit NACDL's legislative action center for more information on pending federal legislation NACDL is tracking related to juvenile justice.

NACDL Legislative Action Center



Below, please find information on recent newly released reports and other resources.

Organizational Resources:

Juvenile Justice Media Items

  • Advocacy Call on Montgomery v. Louisiana
  • Advocacy Call on Juvenile Life Without Parole
  • Strategies for Keeping Youth Out of Adult Jails and Prisons [webinar]

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Juvenile Justice Champion Articles

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