Although the justice system is based on the premise of innocent until proven guilty, “voluntary” participation deviates from this as it places both the guilty and innocent under the same pressure to plead guilty based on numerous unknowns including what incriminating evidence may have been uncovered and compiled by the prosecution, how strong the prosecution’s case may be and the possibilities of severe penalties if found guilty. Even if innocent, youth face enormous pressure by court room participants, eager to trim their caseloads, to participate in youth court by threatening them with formal prosecution and possible incarceration.
Further, the effectiveness of counsel in juvenile proceedings is essential and case law provides that a juvenile with counsel is not sufficient on its face, but that counsel must be effective, trained and professionally qualified to provide the legal advice necessary during court proceedings. Although youth offenders are provided an attorney, youth counselors are not legally qualified to provide adequate legal counsel necessary to proceed in a fair and just manner.
The prosecution has unlimited discretion to refuse to prosecute many of the types of offenses referred to youth court. Since the development and expansion of youth courts, approximately nine percent of juvenile arrests are diverted from formal juvenile adjudication process annually. Therefore, youth courts bring a wider range of offenders under social control by hearing minor offenses, which have traditionally been settled without invoking a court response.
Confidentiality is necessary to preserve youth accountability, therefore delinquency proceedings must be concealed from the public in order to prevent youth from experimenting stigmatization. Many youth courts waive confidentiality rights of the offender which fails to prohibit youth volunteers from discussing personal and family matters aired in youth court proceedings, contributing to embarrassment, stigmatization and alienation of youth offenders. Although some youth courts obligate each youth volunteer to sign an oath of confidentiality of all matters discussed during court proceedings, it cannot be guaranteed that youth, who have been deemed more immature than adults by the Supreme Court, will not discuss such sensitive and confidential matters outside of the courtroom. Public disclosure of youth court information may hinder the youth’s ability to obtain meaningful employment or attend the college long after the youth has been rehabilitated.
Equal protection under the law
Youth courts violate equal protection of juveniles through eligibility requirements to enter the program. Judges and prosecutors involved in the referral process are given a broad discretion on which juveniles may be offered the option to participate in youth court versus the traditional juvenile adjudication process. Freedom of discretion may lead to more serious issues as it is vulnerable to social, racial or ethnic discrimination.