Los Angeles Juvenile Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Juvenile Crimes’ Category

Steubenville Rape Case. Henry Rollins to the Resuce and A California Perspective

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Lots of thoughts on the Steubenville rape case, and frankly I’ve been reticent to share my thoughts as the emotions and wounds are still raw. To my mind, it has been relegated to a topic “not discussed in polite company.”  As a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, I’m used to holding my tongue on issues of criminal justice.  Unless I know my companions well, nothing brings a dinner party to a grinding halt faster than my view of the world especially when talking about tough topics like pirson reform, domestic violence,  and now…Steubenville.

But as someone who cares deeply about the integrity of the juvenile justice system, it is difficult to be quiet.

Thankfully, contemporary cultural philosopher Henry Rollins came to the rescue this morning.  In an eloquent, plain-spoken blog post he framed the issues beautifully, especially the issue of punishment:

After reading posts for quite awhile, I thought first about the two young men. I wondered if the years in the facility will “help” them. What, exactly does one “learn” in one of these places? That is to say, after five years locked away, does the idea of assaulting a woman seem like the wrong thing to do, more than if you were incarcerated for one year? Would you be “more sorry” about what you did? Is that possible? Or, would you just be more sorry for yourself about where your actions landed you? At what point do you get “better”, how many years in one of these places does that take?

This is a real problem here in Los Angeles County.  The goal of the juvenile justice system is supposed to be “rehabilitation”, but unfortunately the system seems far more interested in “punishment.”  Except for a few notable exceptions, juvenile facilities in LA County are preoccupied with teaching kids how to submit to authority, not treating or rehabilitating.  Some of you reading think that’s what these kids need and I agree that a structured environment is important,  but let’s look a little deeper .

In Los Angeles County when a child is declared a ward of the delinquency court, unless a he or she is allowed to remain “home on probation”, he or she gets sent to one of three places:

    • A “probation camp” for a period of 3 to 9 months. This is a “boot camp” type facility that I like to call “county jail with training wheels.”


    • A “suitable placement facility” Depending on the child’s home life or any psychological issues, the child is placed in a group home which may or may not have a treatment component.  Kids are here for indeterminate period of time.  The court can maintain jurisdiction until the age of 21.


    • Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  This is state prison for kids.  The only kids eligible to be sent here those who are found to have committed serious or violent offenses (strikes under California’s Three Strikes laws) . Kids can be kept there until they are 25.


So if this were Los Angeles County, what would be the appropriate disposition for the Steubenville kids?

What they did to the victim was horrible, period. Something must be done.  And let’s assume that the Ohio charges sustained against them were  the equivalent of “serious or violent offenses” aka “strikes” under California’s Three Strikes law.  Do you send these kids to DJJ until their 25? Is that the answer?

DJJ only houses 750 kids.  These are kids whom  the court believes has repeatedly engaged in  very serious criminal conduct:  Drive-by shootings, violent takeover robberies involving firearms,  kidnappings for robbery,  kids who are deeply entrenched in street gangs, and yes…also minors accused of violent sexual assaults.

But on a gut level, does that really feel like the Steubenville kids?  Do you want to warehouse these boys until their 25 with the hardest of hardcore?  These kids wouldn’t make it there for a minute.   Is this going to rehabilitate them or is this going to be a graduate school for further serious criminal conduct?

So let’s take DJJ off the table.  What if the Steubenville boys were sent to a “suitable placement” group home or a short-term probation camp. People would be up in arms and outraged that they got away with a seemingly light punishment.  Especially because in California, minors who sustain sex crime charges but are not sent to DJJ are not required to register as offenders nor would this be a qualifying offense towards California’s Sexual violent Predator law.  And while I do not believe in of sex offender registration for minors, if there were no registration requirement in this case, the outcry would be 10 times as loud.



School Officials Believe Rosary Beads Are Gang Symbol

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

A guest blogger, Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew Bouvier-Brown, comes to us this week with his take on a bizarre incident in which a Colorado high school student had his rosary beads confiscated by school authorities?  Why?  They believed that the rosary, which contained 13 beads was a “gang symbol.” As Reported in the Daily Mail:

According to the Loveland Reporter Herald schools across the country have been banning the wearing of the beads because they are known to be used by gangs including the Surenos and the Latin Kings to mark membership.

The district’s fears were furthered by the fact that [the student's] string had on it 13 beads – a number associated with the Surenos – rather than the traditional 10.

But is the 13 bead rosary that unusual?  No.

It is, in fact, quite common for a rosary to have “thirteen” beads, depending on how you describe the arrangement of those beads. A typical rosary is divided into “decades,” strings of ten beads, with a single bead dividing each of the decades. There are five decades on a complete rosary. The five decades of beads (plus four dividing beads) form the main portion of the rosary, linked together by a medallion of some sort (typically, but again, styles vary widely.) Hanging down from the medallion will be five more beads: a single bead, a group of three beads, a single bead, and then a cross or crucifix icon.

However, it is not uncommon for a sort of “mini-rosary” to be sold with a string of ten beads. Such items are in wide use and are certainly a part of traditional Catholic prayer rituals. On such items, there are sometimes only one additional bead between the medallion and the crucifix icon, leaving a total of eleven beads. It is also fairly common, however, to see three beads between the medallion and the crucifix– making a total of thirteen beads on the rosary. An example of one such thirteen bead rosary: the last item for sale here (http://www.totallycatholic.com/single.htm). One can see that the last example is a very cheaply made, inexpensive rosary, all plastic; that is a good indicator of the level of wide distribution this style might be expected to receive. They are meant for giving away… perhaps to a group of school kids, for instance.

But this story brings to light a more perplexing and disturbing problem. These school educators can hardly be blamed for their ill-conceived position on this issue, as they are in many ways simply following a well-established trend in law enforcement towards its next logical step. In courtrooms across Los Angeles, across California and all over the western United States today, one will find law enforcement officers styled as “gang experts” who will tell you, under oath and in the face of cross-examination, that what transmutes an ordinary, innocuous symbol into a gang symbol is the person who is wearing it. They’ll also testify that what transmutes a person into a gang member is the fact that he or she is wearing a gang symbol. The circularity ensues:

Q: “How do you know this person is a gang member?”

A: “For one thing, he’s got a gang symbol. A Raider’s helmet.”

Q:  “Are all Raiders helmet tattoos gang symbols?”

A:  “Only when they’re being worn by suspected gang members.”

Now, of course, merely having a tattoo, possessing a certain symbol, carrying an article, or the like cannot by itself make you a gang member. The other pieces of this equation? Association with “known” gang members, and oftentimes, a shared ethnicity with that gang. In short, a young Latino or Latina who grew up in a neighborhood where there are gangs (thus associating him or her with gang members by default; every kid from that neighborhood went to the same school) with a Raiders helmet tattoo has a gang tattoo.

It’s almost to be expected, then, that this insidious, vaguely circular reasoning would extend to other symbols ubiquitous in Latino culture. The rosary is certainly that, which leads one to wonder: What about images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to whom the rosary prayer is so often dedicated?

La Virgen is certainly an even more common image, whether on an elaborate mural, a beautify tapestry, a cheaply made candle, or a tattoo. Can we consider this deeply cherished, culturally distinctive, powerful spiritual beacon a gang symbol as well? You’ll find Her associated with young Latinos and Latinas everywhere, including that relatively small percentage of the demographic who belong to a criminal street gang.

When this young Latino boy brings a rosary to campus, he’s bringing a gang symbol to school. When and elderly white woman does the same, most assuredly, no one will ever make the same assumption. If this sounds sinister to you, please know: this kind of thinking merely follows the lead set by the so-called gang experts now dictating public policy and determining the outcome of criminal justice proceedings throughout America.