When Minors Face Major Consequences: What Attorneys Representing Children in Delinquency, Designation, and Waiver Proceedings Need to Know

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In 1996, responding to the widely held misperception that juvenile delinquency was out of control, driven largely by the media’s disproportionate focus on youth violence, the Michigan legislature passed one of the country’s harshest packages of delinquency reform legislation (see sidebar). That legislation dramatically altered the way youth alleged to have violated the law are treated. Moreover, the legislature clearly intends that delinquency proceedings exist largely to punish children for their violations of the law. Both MCL 712A.2d(2)(e) (designation) and MCL 712A.4(4)(e) (waiver) make explicitly clear that one purpose of delinquency proceedings and the juvenile justice system is to punish rather than to rehabilitate. Many of the newer provisions are clearly oriented to punish rather than to address a youth’s best interests. Unfortunately, Michigan’s appellate courts have been slow to recognize this simple fact.