Kent v. United States: Juvenile Court Waiver of Jurisdiction (03/21/1966)

Kent v. United States

Was the juvenile court’s waiver of jurisdiction valid?

Argued: 01/19/1966

Decision Date: 03/21/1966

Decision Record: 5-4; no

Justices in Favor: Earl Warren, William Douglas, Tom Clark, William Brennan, Abe Fortas

Justices Dissenting: Hugo Black, John Harlan, Potter Stewart, Byron White

Effect of the Decision

This case ruled that Kent’s waiver of jurisdiction was invalid.

In Favor

In the favoring side of this case, on the side of the Kent, attorney Myron G. Ehrlich argued, “This case is here on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit.

I was assigned by the United States Court of Appeals to prefect the petitioner’s appeal from the District Court to that Court.

Mr. Arens represented the petitioner in the Juvenile Court.

I am here just as a public service representing an indigent without compensation and so is Mr. Arens who joined me in this petition for writ of certiorari.

The facts in this case if the Court pleases are that on — on or about September 5, 1961, the accused in this case was arrested by officers of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia and he at that time have been a ward of the Juvenile Court for some two years.

It appears from the record that he was arrested because two years prior to that time, the police department had taken him without authority of the Juvenile Court to the police department and there had him fingerprinted at the time when he was 14 years of age and they discovered some fingerprints in the areas of these houses in which the accused allegedly broke in when he was 16 years old and they finally discovered that this 16-year-old boy was the boy whose his fingerprints were in the vicinity of two or three of these areas together with other fingerprints.

After they arrested him in this case, they questioned him for some four or five days, as I read the record, and on the second day of his arrest, his mother retained or asked Mr. Arens to come into Court and to represent the indigent accused who was then 16 years old.”


In the opposition, on the side of the United States, attorney Theodore George Gilinsky, “The principal question which we feel is in this case whether constitutionally it was necessary to hold an adversary formal oral hearing or for that matter any kind of hearing at the Juvenile Court level under the particular facts to decide whether the Social Service facilities of the Juvenile Court were applicable to this particular defendant.

Cases called Black as he said was handed down in December, as I read the case, it holds that a juvenile, in Juvenile Court prior to waiver is entitled to a lawyer.

It does not decide that he is entitled to a hearing.

It does not decide that he’s entitled to see the social records.

And for very good reason, because this boy, Black, did not have a lawyer.

Because that’s why they point in Black to what happened in Kent.

They say, “Now, look what a lawyer can do for you.”

In Kent, the lawyer did supply, did supply the Juvenile Court with a memorandum and some information as to his mental status.

So that — to say that the lawyer was useless, you see, Black says, “No, of course it wasn’t useless.

Look at Kent.”

But on the basis of that, I say there is no conflict in these decisions.”


On the majority side, also the affirming side, Justice Abe Fortas wrote the opinion. He wrote, “Ordinarily, we would reverse the Court of Appeals and direct the District Court to remand the case to the Juvenile Court for a new determination of waiver. If, on remand, the decision were against waiver, the indictment in the District Court would be dismissed. See Black v. United States, supra. However, petitioner has now passed the age of 21, and the Juvenile Court can no longer exercise jurisdiction over him. In view of the unavailability of a redetermination of the waiver question by the Juvenile Court, it is urged by petitioner that the conviction should be vacated and the indictment dismissed. In the circumstances of this case, and in light of the remedy which the Court of Appeals fashioned in Black, supra, we do not consider it appropriate to grant this drastic relief.[n33] Accordingly, we vacate the order of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the District Court and remand the case to the District Court for a hearing de novo on waiver, consistent with this opinion.[n34] If that court finds that waiver was inappropriate, petitioner’s conviction must be vacated. If, however, it finds that the waiver order was proper when originally made, the District Court may proceed, after consideration of such motions as counsel may make and such further proceedings, if any, as may be warranted, to enter an appropriate judgment.”

In the side of the opposition, Justice Stewart wrote the opinion. He wrote, “This case involves the construction of a statute applicable only to the District of Columbia. Our general practice is to leave undisturbed decisions of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concerning the import of legislation governing the affairs of the District.General Motors Corp. v. District of Columbia,380 U.S. 553, 556. It appears, however, that two cases decided by the Court of Appeals subsequent to its decision in the present case may have considerably modified the court’s construction of the statute. Therefore, I would vacate this judgment and remand the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in the light of its subsequent decisions, Watkins v. United States, 119 U.S.App.D.C. 409, 343 F.2d 278, and Black v. United States, 122 U.S.App.D.C. 393, 355 F.2d 104.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the majority. According to the the Juvenile Court Act, a proper investigation must be performed in order for a juvenile court’s waiver of jurisdiction to be ordered. However, this was not the case. Kent did not receive access to a hearing, access to counsel or to his record prior to the waiver. This definitely does not justify a juvenile court’s waiver of jurisdiction to be ordered.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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