Los Angeles Juvenile Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Juvenile Sex 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.

 

 

Minor Charged With Committing Lewd Acts At Day Care Center

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

A 14-year-old was arrested on August 7 near Sacramento for suspicion of committing lewd acts at a day care center owned by his mother.

As a juvenile criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that lewd acts sounds like a euphemism, but under California law it is a specific crime.

One aspect of the crime involves sexual acts that are done in public. These are governed by California Penal Code Section 287(a), which makes certain lewd acts performed in public misdemeanors.;

Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:

(a) Who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.

In the case involving the day care center, however, the potential charges could be much more serious.

Under California Penal Code section 288(a), someone who touches someone under the age of 14 with the intent to arouse them can be sentenced to jail for up to  eight years.  To be convicted of committing lewd acts on a minor under 14, the lewd acts must be done with an intent to arouse or gratify the desires of either the person doing the touching or the child.

Here, as always, the child is entitled to the presumption of innocence.  Moreover, we don’t know what the child or the day care center did or whether the alleged victim is under 14.  Depending on how the prosecution views the case, people charged with lewd acts can also face felony charges for indecent exposure, sexual battery, or molestation.   In contrast to a violation of Section 288(a), which is a felony, sexual battery, which is governed by California Penal Code Section 243.4, is a wobbler; it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Most of the time, juveniles who are found guilty of committing lewd acts are put into what is known as “suitable placement.”  This is a group home that at least in theory is supposed to provide an opportunity for therapeutic treatment.  Unlike some sex crimes committed by adult crimes, California law does not impose a lifetime registration requirement on juvenile sex offenders unless the offenses are registerable under California Penal Code Section 290 AND the juvenile is sentenced to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which in California is the equivalent of state prison for minors.  Here, whether a child would need to register as a sex offender for life depends in large part on whether he is found guilty of violating section 288(a).  This is just one example how a criminal act committed by someone as young as 14 can have lifelong repercussions.