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Articles Posted in Juveniles

JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM

Not that long ago, 17 years ago to be exact, the voters in California were in a get tough on juvenile crime mood. Proposition 21, the Juvenile Crime Initiative, was passed by a wide majority of California voters. The proposition dismantled much of the juvenile justice system, sending many juveniles to adult court and ultimately to adult prison. It didn’t take long before key components of prop 21 were reversed by California voters when Proposition 57 passed this past November. Since passage of Pop 57, all but the most serious of juvenile crime cases are sent to the juvenile court. The juvenile may still end up before the adult court, but the juvenile judge must make that decision. Previously, many juvenile cases went straight to adult court.

California is not the only state to realize that most juveniles do not belong in adult courts and prisons. Treating juvenile crime as adult crime does little to “reform” the juvenile offender and perhaps has the opposite effect. When Connecticut stopped sending its 16-18 year old’s to adult court beginning in 2012, the state saw many positive effects, including a dramatic decrease in crimes committed by young adults aged 18-21; this effect no doubt having to do with the emphasis on intervention, rather than punishment of the under age 18 offender.

Until the passage of Proposition 57 on November 8th, minors over the age of 14 charged with a criminal offense would often find themselves directly charged in adult court rather than juvenile court. The two courts are very distinct because the focus of court in a juvenile criminal matter is rehabilitation and education whereas a juvenile who faces charges in criminal court will be treated as an adult and faces the same punishments an adult would on the same charges.

Prior to the passage of Prop 57, prosecutors could, and were often mandated to, directly file charges against a juvenile age 14-17 in adult court. In those cases where the juvenile 14 years or older, direct file was mandatory under the law for certain serious felonies such as murder and many sex crimes. For other crimes, the prosecution could file the charges against a child as young as 14 directly in adult court under what was known as discretionary direct file. Many of the laws regarding direct file were a result of an earlier proposition passed by California voters in the year 2000, known as Proposition 21. Proposition 57 reversed the “get tough on juveniles” sentiment of Proposition 21.

Now under Proposition 57, which became the law on November 9th, prosecutors can no longer directly file charges in adult court under any circumstances. The law now requires a hearing before a juvenile court judge before any person who committed a crime while under the age of 18 can be transferred to adult court on criminal charges. Additionally, prior to Proposition 57, the prosecution could move the juvenile court to transfer the matter to adult court in what was called a “fitness hearing” for those juveniles whose case was not “direct filed.” The criteria under which juvenile judges were mandated by statute to consider the transfer favored the prosecution. Now, all juveniles charged with a crime will appear before the juvenile court in a “transfer hearing,” which requires the juvenile judge to consider five criteria:

PENAL CODE SECTION 1170 MAY OFFER RELIEF TO THOSE JUVENILES CONVICTED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

I previously discussed the 2012 United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ , wherein the Supreme Court held that mandatory sentencing laws carrying life without parole were unconstitutional for juvenile offenders convicted of committing murder and the subsequent Supreme Court case earlier this year, Montgomery v. Louisiana, making the decision in Miller v. Alabama retroactive. In the same year that the Supreme Court published Miller v. Alabama, the California Legislature enacted a new law in the Penal Code under section 1170, which provides for a petition process to defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed an offense for which they were sentenced to life without parole. Under this statute, juvenile defendants so sentenced can, after 15 years of their term, petition the sentencing court to resentence the offender.

Now this is law does not fall under the equation outlined in Miller v. Alabama because it does not concern mandatory sentencing but it does address the same reasoning for the Supreme Court’s decision. In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court recognized the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain. The majority opinion in the Miller v. Alabama decision recognized the “hallmark features” of the teenager’s conduct, including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.”

PETITIONING THE COURT TO SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS

California law permits a person to petition the court to order the sealing of his or her juvenile criminal record if certain conditions are met. A juvenile who was found by the juvenile court to have committed any misdemeanor and some felonies can petition the court to seal all records at any time after the offender has reached the age of 18 or five years after termination of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.   Prior to January 2015, the juvenile offender had to petition to seal the juvenile records before the offender reached that age of 21. New law that took effect on January 1, 2015 now allows a person of any age to petition for this relief if his or her probation terminated after January 1, 2015. This relief is not available to juveniles who were found to have committed certain felonies as enumerated in Welfare & Institutions Code section 707(b), including murder, rape, robbery and other offenses. There are other restrictions making this relief unavailable under certain circumstances.

A petition for the sealing of a juvenile record would be particularly indicated and available in cases where a juvenile committed a relatively minor crime, such as possession of marijuana, criminal trespass, shoplifting, or even some more serious crimes such as simple assault or theft. If the petitioner has not committed certain subsequent crime (as specified in the statute and generally concern more serious felonies) after the age of 14 or as an adult, can demonstrate to the court that he or she has been rehabilitated, and is not on probation at the time of the petition, the court will order the juvenile records sealed. All records will be sealed, including arrest reports and district attorney records as well as the court records.

OFFERING A CARROT INSTEAD OF A STICK TO FIGHT CRIME

Richmond California has been running an experimental anti-crime program for nine years that defies the traditional responses to crime and may offer a creative way to save a young person from a life in the criminal justice system before it’s too late. The program pays high-risk youth to stay away from crime. That’s right, young people get paid to stay out of trouble. And the carrot might just work better than the stick.

The program, Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), is a public-private partnership administered under the auspices of the City of Richmond. The program employs street outreach staff to identify young people most likely to be involved in gun violence. Those so identified are typically unresponsive to “official” help and guidance. So the program offers credible, customized and responsive opportunities to these individuals as a desirable alternative to a life of crime.

In 1963 Henry Montgomery was a 17 year old living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was playing hooky from school when he was approached by a deputy sheriff assigned to round up truants. When the deputy frisked Henry, Henry pulled out a cheap .22 and fatally shot the deputy. Henry’s lawyers argued that their client, who had an I.Q. in the 70s, panicked and did not fully understand the consequences of his actions. Henry was convicted and ultimately ordered to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Now 69 years old, Mr. Montgomery has spent 52 years of his life in prison and until January 25, 2016, had no chance of parole.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ that mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. This case and others concerning the sentencing of juveniles was discussed in my recent blog titled “The Teenage Brain.” Following the Miller decision, many states held that the decision did not apply retroactively. Louisiana was one of those states. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the unconstitutionality of sentencing as enunciated in the Miller decision applied prospectively only. Thus, those serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed as juveniles in Louisiana had no hope of challenging their sentence based on the Miller decision. Mr. Montgomery decided to challenge Louisiana.

The United States Supreme Court decided to hear Mr. Montgomery’s argument and on January 25, 2016 issued its decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana. The Supreme Court ruled that the Miller decision applies not only to contemporary cases, but also to all those sent to prison for life, without the possibility of parole, no matter how long ago the defendant was sentenced. Thus Mr. Montgomery and others similarly situated must now be given the opportunity to petition the appropriate state court for relief from a mandatory life sentence without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile.

Ask any parent of a teenager whether teenagers think like adults and you are likely to get a hearty chuckle from the parent. It is self-evident that teenagers do not have the same reasoning and decision-making skills as an adult. We don’t need to be the parent of a teen to know—after all we were teens once and we no doubt remember the stupid things we did.

Brain science has come a long way in helping us discover why this is so. It is now an accepted scientific fact that the human brain does not fully mature until a person reaches his or her early 20’s. And the areas of the brain responsible for controlling impulses and planning ahead are among the last areas of the brain to mature.

Yet, our justice system typically treats the juvenile offender (roughly 15-18 years old) as an adult. It is always tragic when a young person commits a crime but shouldn’t we be taking into consideration the fact that these teen criminals are not capable of controlling their impulses or making a decision in the same way that adults are? The Supreme Court says “yes.”

When a juvenile is arrested and charged with a crime, the effects can last a lifetime. Just being questioned by a police officer is intimidating; imagine being taken into custody as a child or teenager.

When a child, under the age of 18 years is facing serious charges, it can be devastating not only to the child but to the parent as well. One of the most important questions a parent can ask himself or herself is: How do I protect my child?

Teens are still not mature enough to stop, think and really consider how serious their actions are and what the consequences might be. Especially if they have never been in trouble with the law and have never had legal consequences. For this reason, it is extremely important to consult with an experienced attorney, who has experience in not only defending criminal charges, but who is experienced in defending juveniles.

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Turning 18 is a very exciting time in a teenager’s life, as well as for their parents. However, for most parents, along with the excitement that a parent feels for their child, there comes the serious reality of just what that means. Privileges such as being able to vote, enter into binding contracts and being able to get married, give young adults a sense of atomy and freedom. But most young adults don’t think about the serious legal implications that come along with turning 18. They are a juvenile in the eyes of the law one day and then the next, they are adults. There is no magic light switch that flips on once a child turns eighteenth, that all of the sudden changes the way they think and act. Their impulses and behaviors are still the same because they are the same child they were the day before.

When a minor, someone under the age of 18 years, comes in contact with the police and/or court system, the consequences, depending upon the circumstances, are put in place not only to teach that child a lesson but also to help the child get back on the right track. The goal of the juvenile court system is rehabilitation and also to protect the child’s record so that their future is not affected by their mistakes. However, once that child turns 18, the whole system is different. It is much more harsh and unforgiving.

As an example, if a 17 year old is out with friends and decides to “TP” a friend or neighbor’s house, and they get caught, it is likely that the parents will be made aware of it but unlikely that they will be charged with trespassing and/or vandalism. However, if that same child turns 18 and is out with that same group of friends and decides to “TP” a friend or neighbor’s house, there is the possibility that he/she can be charged with trespassing and/or vandalism.

Why Should I Seal My Juvenile Record?

Although you may have successfully completed your probation, having a juvenile record can have a negative effect on your life going forward. It may become an issue when you are trying to get a job or get into a college. Having your record sealed can help you get a fresh start without the fear of your past coming back to haunt you.

What Is A Juvenile Record?