A More Just System of Juvenile Justice: Creating a New Standard of Accountability for Juveniles in Illinois

Brooke Troutman | January 1, 2018

For over a century, America’s legal system has made substantial reforms to change its treatment of adolescents. Every day, we see that our legal system treats adolescents differently from their adult counterparts. With regards to driving privileges, voting rights, and the ability to drink, our laws recognize that adults and adolescents are different and therefore require a different set of standards. America extended this treatment to the realm of juvenile justice in 1899, when Cook County, Illinois, created the country’s first juvenile court. Originating in this court was the overarching purpose of America’s juvenile justice system—rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. Though over a century has passed since the creation of America’s first juvenile court, only recently has the law begun to treat juveniles differently from their adult counterparts. In the past decade, landmark Supreme Court decisions Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, J.D.B. v. North Carolina, and Miller v. Alabama have implemented constitutional shields for juveniles against the death penalty, life without parole, and improper Miranda waivers. In implementing these safeguards, the Supreme Court has employed new scientific understandings of juveniles, as well as common sense, to conclude that juveniles are different from adults and should be treated differently by the law. Though the Supreme Court created safeguards for juveniles in death penalty and life without parole circumstances, situations still exist that threaten the lives of juvenile offenders. Illinois accountability theory is one such situation. In Illinois, accountability theory is the mechanism by which the State can convict an offender of a crime which they did not actually commit. In Illinois, an individual who exhibited more than “mere presence” at the scene of the crime can be convicted of the same crime and sentenced in the same manner as the individual who committed the crime. Given the recent landmark Supreme Court cases, new scientific findings relating to the psychological understanding of juveniles, as well as simple common sense, accountability theory should not be used to prosecute juvenile offenders in Illinois.