Los Angeles Juvenile Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Juvenile Law News’ 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.

 

 

California Gov. Signs Law That Would Allow Juveniles Who Received Life Sentences to Receive A Shorter Sentence

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that would give juveniles who received life sentences a chance to petition a judge to reduce their sentences.

There are approximately 300 inmates in California who received life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.  Most of these involve murder convictions for acts that took place when the juvenile was 16 or 17 years old.

Under the new law, which was referred to as SB9 as it wound its way through the legislative process, these inmates may petition a judge to reconsider sentence if they meet certain conditions.  Most importantly, the inmate must serve at least 15 years in prison before they have the right to petition the court for a reduced sentence.  If a judge finds sufficient evidence of remorse and rehabilitation, the judge has the authority to reduce the sentence to 25 years to life.  That would provide an opportunity for the inmate to be released from prison at some point in the future.

As a parent, I am sympathetic to the families of the victims of the crimes that resulted in the life sentence.  Some of these families opposed this bill on the grounds that they were promised that the kids who murdered their loved ones would never be released from prison.  I can see why such families might see this new law as unfair.

As a criminal defense lawyer who represents juveniles in Los Angeles, I know that the brain of a juvenile is different than that of an adult.  Juveniles have less impulse control.  That does not of course justify committing crimes, let alone murder.  It does, however, suggest that putting away juveniles for life is a bad idea unless you include some mechanism that allows for judicial review of the sentence.  Given what we now know about juvenile brain development, we should not be promising victims’ families that the 16 or 17 year old who was convicted will never leave prison.

SB9 is a good and modest step towards making sure that we align our juvenile justice system with what we are increasingly learning about juveniles and how they are different from adults.  Governor Brown was right to sign SB9 into law.