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Ohio State Law Journal

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During the last decade and a half, there has been significant recognition of the legal rights of children and increasing attention to the law governing those rights. In addition to voluminous law review literature and treatment in texts, the United States Supreme Court, lower federal courts, and the state courts have addressed issues relating to children's rights in an expanding number of cases. Among the areas that the courts have scrutinized are children's freedom of expression under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States, hearing requirements before a student may be suspended from a public school or subjected to a disciplinary transfer, the rights of students summarily expelled from schools to sue for damages, corporal punishment of students, free access by minors to contraceptive devices, the right of a child to secure an abortion without parental consent, and the right of a minor to a hearing before commitment to a state mental hospital.

Recently, the focus of attention has shifted to children's noncriminal misbehavior, which is subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts through statutes proscribing such conduct as truancy, running away from home, incorrigibility, ungovernability or waywardness, leading an idle or dissolute life, or being beyond parental control or habitually disobedient. The courts' exercise of this jurisdiction has been subjected to several lines of attack. Critics charge that statutory definitions of the behavior or circumstances that trigger juvenile court jurisdiction over noncriminal misbehavior of children are hopelessly vague and overbroad, that the exercise of the jurisdiction unconstitutionally punishes a status, that an adjudication under the applicable statutes labels and "stigmatizes" the respondent child, and that exercise of the jurisdiction is an example of racial and economic discrimination. In sum, critics argue that the assertion of jurisdiction by juvenile courts over noncriminal misbehavior of children is not only fraught with constitutional problems, but also fails to serve any legitimate interest of the state and is not a valid exercise of the state's power. These attacks have culminated in the demand that the jurisdiction be abolished in order that children who engage in conduct that would not be criminal if committed by an adult would be free of the coercive power of the juvenile courts.



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