Schall v. Martin, 467 U.S. 253 (1984)

2012-09-02 07:36:07

In Schall v. Martin, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New York statute allowing pretrial detention of juveniles presenting a ‘‘serious risk’’ that they may commit another crime before trial. Martin, a fourteen- year-old boy charged with robbery, assault, and weapons possession, was held pending trial because the court believed he might commit additional offenses in the interim. In essence, the court assumed that Martin was probably guilty.

Martin argued the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause, because it authorized punishment without trial. He also noted that most children subject to preventive detention either had their charges dismissed or were released immediately on being found guilty.

The Court rejected Martin’s claims, holding that preventive detention was not punishment. It held that such detentions were an appropriate component of a flexible juvenile justice policy. The Court stressed that states had wide latitude to craft policies protecting such children from themselves.

The decision was notable because it was the first time that the Court explicitly authorized ‘‘preventive detention’’—the policy of denying a criminal defendant Bail for the purpose of preventing future crime, rather than ensuring his or her presence in court. Although the decision itself was not radical—child detention was widely seen as appropriate in cases of poor parental supervision—the Court’s analysis opened the door to the more expansive authorization of preventive detention for adults in United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987).


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987)