Kent v. United States (1966) | Definition

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

Kent v. United States (1966) is a  landmark SCOTUS decision holding that juveniles must be afforded certain due process rights.

Kent v. United States was a pivotal case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in 1966. This case involved a 16-year-old named Morris Kent, whose rights were at the heart of this landmark decision. The outcome of this case fundamentally changed how the justice system treats juveniles, ensuring they receive certain rights to due process.

Background of the Case

Morris Kent, the subject of this case, had a history of legal trouble. At 14, he was on probation for burglary and theft charges. Two years later, he was accused of additional crimes, including robbery and rape. Because of the serious nature of these crimes, the prosecution sought to try Kent as an adult.

However, there was an issue. Kent’s lawyer argued that Kent’s due process rights had been violated because the juvenile court had waived its jurisdiction without a hearing, meaning he was automatically transferred to adult court without proper review.

The Issue at Hand

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the waiver of jurisdiction from a juvenile court to an adult court, without a hearing or explanation, violated Kent’s due process rights. The “due process” is a constitutional principle that guarantees fair treatment through the normal judicial system.

The case revolved around whether juveniles, like adults, should be granted these rights. These include the right to a hearing, the right to counsel, and the right to a statement of reasons for the court’s actions.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court agreed with Kent. In a majority decision, the Court ruled that juveniles are entitled to certain basic due process rights. The Court decided that before a juvenile court can waive its jurisdiction, it must provide a hearing, access to counsel, and a statement of reasons.

This decision was groundbreaking. It recognized that juveniles have distinct rights and that courts must respect these rights.

Implications of the Decision

The ruling in Kent v. United States has had a profound effect on the juvenile justice system. It has ensured that juveniles receive fair treatment under the law. This has led to more thorough and careful consideration before transferring juveniles to adult courts.

The decision also highlighted the importance of legal counsel in juvenile cases. The Court’s insistence on the right to counsel underscored the crucial role attorneys play in protecting individuals’ rights, even if those individuals are juveniles.

The Legacy of Kent v. United States

The legacy of the Kent decision is still evident today. It set a vital precedent for juvenile justice, affirming the importance of due process rights for young individuals. This landmark case laid the groundwork for later decisions that further expanded the rights of juveniles in the justice system.


In conclusion, Kent v. United States was a milestone in the history of the U.S. justice system. This 1966 Supreme Court case affirmed that juveniles must be afforded certain due process rights, significantly impacting how the justice system treats younger individuals. This ruling reinforced the principle that fairness and respect for individual rights should extend to all, regardless of age. The echoes of this landmark decision continue to shape the juvenile justice system today.

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Last Modified: 05/28/2023

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