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In the spring of 1984, hopes ran high among advocates for children all over the country that the courts were sounding the deathknell for juvenile preventive detention. Preventive detention, in any form, had never been upheld by the nation's highest Court. A New York federal district court in United States ex rel. Martin v. Strasburg had already struck down the state's juvenile preventive detention statute as violative of due process on its face. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit subsequently affirmed Strasburg.

The district court found that New York family court judges routinely remanded alleged juvenile delinquents to secure detention during an initial arraignment averaging only five to fifteen minutes. These judges, the district court found, detained children based on "intuition and [their] personal predilections, the antithesis of reasoned action." Eighteen years of constitutional jurisprudence, commencing with In re Gault, had construed the Constitution to protect the rights of accused juveniles through stringent procedural safeguards in order to avoid punishment of presumptively innocent persons. Thus, in the spring of 1984, many advocates for children were confident that the Supreme Court would definitively strike down preventive detention as unconstitutional.

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