Kent V. United States
Regarded as the first major juvenile rights case to preface further juvenile court reforms, Kent v. United States established the universal precedents of requiring waiver hearings before juveniles could be transferred to the jurisdiction of a criminal court and juveniles being entitled to consult with counsel prior to and during such hearings. Morris A. Kent, Jr. , first came under the authority of the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia in 1959. He was then aged 14.
He was apprehended as a result of several housebreakings and an attempted purse snatching.
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He was placed on probation, in the custody of his mother, who had been separated from her husband since Kent was two years old. Juvenile Court officials interviewed Kent from time to time during the probation period, and accumulated a “Social Service” file. On September 2, 1961, an intruder entered the apartment of a woman in the District of Columbia. He took her wallet. He raped her. The police found in the apartment latent fingerprints. They were developed and processed.
They matched the fingerprints of Morris Kent, taken when he was 14 years old and under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. At about 3 p. m. on September 5, 1961, Kent was taken into custody by the police. Kent was then 16, and therefore subject to the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the Juvenile Court. He was still on probation to that court as a result of the 1959 proceedings. Kent was detained on 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 a motion with the juvenile court opposing the waiver as well as a request to inspect records relating to Kent’s previous offenses. A psychiatric examination of Kent was arranged by his attorney. His attorney argued that because his client was “a victim of severe psychopathology” it would be in Kent’s best interest to remain within the juvenile courts jurisdiction where he could receive adequate treatment. The juvenile court judge failed to rule on any of Kent’s attorney’s motions. He also failed to confer with Kent’s attorney and/or parents.
Then the juvenile courts judge declared that “after full investigation, I do hereby waive” jurisdiction of Kent and direct that he be held for trial for the offenses . He 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 on six counts of housebreaking by federal jury, although the jury found him “not guilty by reason of insanity” on the rape charges. Because of DC law, it was mandatory that Kent be sent to a mental institution until such time as his sanity is restored.
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 years sentence. Kent’s conviction was reversed by a vote 5-4. This is significant, because it signified a subtle shift in Supreme Court sentiment relating to juvenile rights. It is also significant that the Supreme Court stressed the phrase “critically important” when referring to the absence of counsel and waiver hearing, respectively.
Because of Kent’s decision, waiver hearings are now critical stages. Regarding the effective assistance of counsel, this was also regarded by the court as a “critically important” decision. They 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 of a hearing on a “Critically important” decision is tantamount to a denial of counsel (383 U. S. at 561)