Judicial Review & the Policy of Federal Abstention: A Juvenile’s Right to Ensure the Existence of a “Substantial Federal Interest”

The problem of juvenile delinquency must be dealt with in an effective and meaningful manner if we are to reduce the ever increasing levels of crime and improve the quality of life in America. With these words, the United States Senate opened its report in support of the first major federal juvenile delinquency statute in almost forty years. The goal of the statute and of federal involvement in juvenile delinquency proceedings was to give the highest attention to preventing juvenile crime and to minimizing the involvement of juveniles in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Until 1974, the federal government played a relatively minor role in the juvenile delinquency system. In that year, Congress, in accordance with a general trend toward federalizing crime, greatly expanded the jurisdiction of the federal government over juvenile crime. Historically, crime, and particularly juvenile crime, was the responsibility of state governments with very little involvement by the federal government. In fact, the only major statute that dealt with juvenile crime was the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act of 1938 (“FJDA”). The FIDA offered the United States Attorney General discretion in deciding whether to prosecute a juvenile under the age of eighteen who had not been surrendered to state officials or had been charged with offenses punishable by life imprisonment or death. The federal government rarely employed this statute, and therefore federal involvement in juvenile delinquency proceedings remained virtually nonexistent until 1974. In that year, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (“JJDPA”) because it felt that federal intervention was necessary to stem rising juvenile crime rates, specifically, violent juvenile crime.