In Re Winship (1970) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Juvenile Justice

In Re Winship (1970) is a SCOTUS decision in which the Court held that the evidentiary standard for juveniles accused of crimes was beyond a reasonable doubt, just as in an adult court.

In Re Winship (1970) was a significant decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that determined the standard of proof required in juvenile delinquency cases. The case involved a 12-year-old boy, Samuel Winship, who was accused of stealing $112 from a woman’s purse in New York City. Winship was adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent based on the lower standard of proof that was typically used in juvenile court proceedings: preponderance of the evidence.

The Court held that the preponderance of the evidence standard, which meant that it was more likely than not that the juvenile committed the offense, was not sufficient in a delinquency proceeding where the potential loss of liberty was at stake. The Court concluded that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a higher standard of proof in juvenile delinquency proceedings. In particular, the Court ruled that the reasonable doubt standard, which is the standard used in criminal trials for adults, must be applied in juvenile cases.

This decision marked a significant turning point in the history of the juvenile justice system, as it ensured that juveniles are afforded the same due process rights as adults. Prior to the Winship decision, juveniles did not have the same constitutional protections as adults and were often subject to lower standards of proof, as well as other procedural and substantive disadvantages.

The Winship decision has had significant implications for the juvenile justice system and the way in which juveniles are treated within the legal system. It has helped to ensure that juveniles are afforded the same constitutional protections as adults and has helped to prevent wrongful convictions of juveniles. At the same time, the decision has raised questions about the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system in rehabilitating juvenile offenders and has led to ongoing debates about the proper balance between punishment and rehabilitation for juvenile offenders.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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