Articles Posted in Juvenile Law

In the justice system, there is one path for adult offenders and another for juvenile offenders. The adult system focuses on deterrence, retribution, punishment, and, to a lesser extent, rehabilitation. The juvenile system, however, is focused exclusively on providing rehabilitation and guidance to the offending juvenile with hopes of decreasing the chance of any future infractions.
Along those lines, generally speaking, the system allows many juveniles to serve sentences that do not include incarceration. Even when a sentence does include incarceration, it is not typically in an adult jail, but rather in a “youth camp” or “juvenile hall.” Sentences in the juvenile justice system tend to be centered around community service, probation, removal from unsafe environments, etc.
However, there are a few ways that a juvenile aged 14 or older might end up in the adult criminal justice system. First, the California legislature has determined that there are some crimes for which even juveniles should be tried as adults. These are generally very serious crimes that may carry long prison sentences with them. For example, a juvenile charged with murder will almost certainly be “directly filed” into adult court. This means that the juvenile offender will never appear before a juvenile judge but instead will go immediately to adult court. The decision whether or not to “direct file” a juvenile offender rests solely with the prosecutor.
Second, if a juvenile is charged with one of several aggravated offenses, and has committed a prior offense, the case is required to go straight to the adult system.
Third, the prosecutor can file for a juvenile fitness hearing to determine whether the juvenile defendant is suitable for rehabilitation. In this hearing, the judge will consider several factors, including:
1. The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the juvenile;
2. Whether the juvenile offender can be rehabilitated before juvenile court jurisdiction expires;
3. The juvenile’s previous delinquent history;
4. The success of previous attempts by juvenile court to rehabilitate the juvenile; and
5. The circumstances and gravity of the offenses alleged to have been committed by the juvenile.

If, after considering these factors, the judge believes that the juvenile offender is not amenable to rehabilitation, then the juvenile offender can be transferred to adult court and tried as an adult.
Once a juvenile is in adult court, there are only very few limitations on the sentence that the juvenile can receive. For the most part the juvenile will be sentenced in the same way an adult would be sentenced.

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One aspect of the college student experience is partying with friends and fellow students at the local bars and clubs. Often times, these college students have no means of transportation and find themselves walking to bars, clubs and to their dorm rooms on campus, sometimes while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

In California there is a statute that prohibits being “Drunk in Public.” To be in violation of Penal Code section 647(f), the “Drunk in Public” statute, you must meet the following criteria:

1. Your level of intoxication makes you unable to exercise care for your safety or for the safety of others, or
2. Your level of intoxication interferes with, obstructs, or prevents others from using streets, sidewalks, or other “public ways”.

For the District Attorney to prove that someone was drunk in public they must prove that the individual was so intoxicated and impaired that they could not safely care for themselves or for the safety of others.

Most of the time people are not impaired enough to care for their own safety. Often times they have done something to antagonize the police officer that has come in contact with them. Unlike a DUI arrest, there is usually no chemical test that is performed to test the level of alcohol or drugs in a person’s system for a drunk in public charge. We generally challenge these types of arrests on your behalf.

Any arrest that results in a conviction on your record is something to be very concerned about. If you are a college student and applying for your first job out of school or applying for financial aid, and if you were arrested and charged, this conviction will show up on a background check. Prospective employers may be hesitant to offer you a position and could very likely assume that you have an alcohol or drug problem.

In addition, under California Vehicle Code section 13202.5, if you are under 21 years of age and you are convicted of public intoxication, you may lose your driver’s license for up to one year, even if you were not driving a vehicle. Also, if you do not yet have the privilege to drive, the court could order the department to delay issuing the driver’s license for one year subsequent to the time you become legally eligible to drive.

It is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to advocate on your behalf if you are facing a drunk in public charge. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

According to a recent story published on NPR, the last ten years have witnessed a decrease in the number of incarcerated male juveniles and an increase in the number female juveniles being detained in jails and residential institutions.

A report entitled “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls”, from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, estimates that females make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, accounting for more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges each year.

Co-author of the report, Georgetown University professor Peter Edelman, maintains that many of the girls that end up in the justice system have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse. Edelman claims that over fifty percent of the female juveniles aren’t being detain for serious crimes but more often are skipping school, breaking curfew or running away from home. Edelman believes that “Getting them back into school and getting them back on a path without invoking the sanctions of the juvenile and criminal justice system… is so much better in terms of not leaving those wounds and scars and preserving the possibilities for the future.”

The Georgetown report contends that juveniles don’t belong in adult jails or prisons and should not be incarcerated for minor offenses such as violating probation. This position has come under sharp criticism from opponents such as Dakota County, Minnesota district attorney James Backstrom.

In the NPR story Backstrom argues, “We’re talking about kids that are violating curfew laws, being truant from school [and] violating court orders. Do we need the authority to pick those kids up? I think we do.” Backstrom continued, saying “[I]f you ignore the small issue, you might not get to the big issue before it’s too late.”

It would appear that some states, including California, are moving at least a little closer to the position outlined in the Georgetown Report. As previously discussed by this blog, the California Supreme Court, in People v. Caballero, recently struck down lengthy prison sentences for juveniles on non-homicide offenses that effectively amounted to a sentence of life without parole.

One example of the negative impact the justice system can have on juveniles is Jabriera Handy. Four years ago, Handy was incarcerated at the Baltimore City Detention Center after her grandmother died of a heart attack shortly after Handy fought with her. Because her grandmother had died so shortly after the fight, Handy was charged as an adult with second degree murder and spent eleven months in the detention center.

Handy recalled one instance where the detention center was locked down after another inmate was stabbed to death. According to Handy, she saw the man was” just laying there with a limp body,” but had to continue on to school like nothing had happened. “[I]t wasn’t like anybody came to us to talk about what [we had] just seen,” Handy stated.

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Examining California Law: How to Seal California Juvenile Records
A common misperception among the general public is that, upon turning eighteen years old, an individual’s juvenile criminal record is automatically sealed. However, in California, such records remain available for public inspection until a court issues an order to seal and destroy them. This can lead to problems down the road for adults who in their youth committed indiscretions, in situations with prospective employers, state licensing agencies, or landlords discover the juvenile record.

Requirements To “Seal” Records Of Juvenile Convictions
When a court “seals” a person’s juvenile record, which can include arrest reports, convictions, probation records, etc., it is essentially closing the file, making it no longer public record. In order to qualify to have a record sealed, an individual must meet four requirements:

1. The individual is at least 18 years old or the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the person terminated more than five years ago;
2. The individual has not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude as an adult, i.e. a crime that involves dishonest or immoral behavior such as fraud or theft.

3. The court determines that the individual has been rehabilitated; and
4. The individual is not subject to any pending civil cases arising from the juvenile incidents.

In addition to meeting the above requirements, the individual must not have been convicted of an offense contained in California Welfare and Institutions Code (“CWIC”) 707(b) after turning 14 years old. Section 707(b) includes some of the most serious offenses such as murder, arson, robbery, and sex offenses.

Sealing Records of Juvenile Non-Convictions
California Penal Code Section 851.7 allows for sealing of a juvenile record if the individual, while a minor, was arrested for a misdemeanor and the individual was released because there were insufficient grounds to make a criminal complaint, the charges were dismissed, or the individual was acquitted of the charge.

In this type of case, the individual may petition the court to seal his or her juvenile record at any time and the record will be sealed if the court finds that the individual is eligible under one of these conditions. Section 851.7 states the “arrest, detention, and any further proceedings in the case shall be deemed not to have occurred, and the petitioner may answer accordingly any question relating to their occurrence.”

In order to initiate the process of sealing a juvenile record, the individual must file an application under the relevant section of the California Penal Code in the juvenile court where he or she was most recently convicted. Although it is possible to complete this process without an attorney, it is generally a good idea to consult with an experienced California juvenile defense attorney who is familiar with California’s juvenile court system in order to ensure the process goes smoothly.

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An important criminal law sentencing issue made national headlines this week as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a close, 5-4 ruling striking down one form of punishment for juveniles as unconstitutional. In Miller v. Alabama, the court held that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles was in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Importantly, this ruling does not mean that juveniles convicted of the harshest crimes can never be sentenced to life without parole. Instead, the ruling only strikes down laws which mandate such a sentence. The court decided that judges must be given the option of considering an individual’s age when finalizing the sentence.

This decision is similar to a string of cases decided by the court in recent years striking down harsh penalties for those who commit crimes before their 18th birthday. For example, in 2005 the court abolished the death penalty for juvenile criminals.

It remains unclear if the ruling will apply retroactively to those already convicted of mandatory life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

Did It Go Far Enough?
Two of the justices in majority–Justices Breyer and Sotomayor–wrote separately, noting that they would actually like the ruling to go even further. If they had their way the justices would prohibit all impositions of mandatory life in prison without parole for crimes where a defendant did not intend to kill or actually kill.

For example, one of the defendants in the Miller case was a 14-year old boy who robbed a video store with two teen friends. During the course of the robbery the boy was a “look out,” standing outside of the store while his two friends went inside. While inside, one of the friends shot and killed the store clerk. The boy himself did not shoot the clerk or have any intention of doing so. Yet, because of “felony-murder” laws in the state, he was treated as having killed the clerk. That triggered the mandatory life without parole sentence.

Justices Breyer and Sotomayor argued that all defendants, even adults, charged with murder in this way–without committing the act themselves–should not receive life without parole.

The Law in California
California has laws that allow these juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole, but they are not mandatory. Judges always have the flexibility to lower a sentence as a result of the defendant’s age. However, some state lawmakers are pushing for changes to the rules such that all life without parole sentences are prohibited. As reported this week in Mercury News, for example, State Senator Leland Yee has consistently pushed for legislation to get rid of the penalty. However, the measures have yet to advance in the statehouse.

In any event, those working closely on juvenile criminal issues applaud the common sense U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which ensure some fairness and individual analysis in all cases involving juveniles. .

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A sitting juvenile court referee who regularly heard cases involving children was arrested last week according to Former Court Referee Accused Of Leading Double Life. Daniel Madden Horton’s arrest shocked those who appeared in his court room.

Investigators say Horton lived a double life. Not only did he decide important cases involving children, he also posed as a modeling agent photographer, approaching teen girls and offering them money for nude photos or sex acts. Investigators say that Horton was caught asking two teen police decoys to pose nude for a magazine, join a masturbation club and make sex videos.

Horton resigned from his position after Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Earl immediately put Horton on leave last week. I imagine that parents who appeared in front of Horton are in disbelief and wonder how they could be judged for child abuse while Horton was allegedly abusing children when he was off the clock.

This case is reminiscent of the Texas Juvenile Court Judge who was caught on tape severely beating his daughter who had cerebral palsy (See Judge William Adams Beating Of Teen With Cerebral Palsy Sparks Outrage (VIDEO))

These men are, by definition, the worst kinds of hypocrites.

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On January 20, 2012 I was a guest speaker at U.C. Riverside Extension 14th Annual Juvenile Law Institute on the topic of Open Court’s Legislation. The topics of the Juvenile Law Dependency program included new dependency case law and legislative update, including the rules of court and new/revised Judicial Council court forms, current issues in dependency law, practice and procedures in the juvenile dependency court system, ethical issues and dilemmas, and views from the bench. In attendance were social workers, probation officers, mediators, therapists, court interpreters, paralegals, court personnel, psychologists, students and CASAs (court appointed special advocates).

In 90 minutes, I presented a comprehensive history of the open and closed juvenile courts systems across the country and the reasons cited for both opening and closing the courts. Participants had the opportunity to share their opinions on the topic in a collaborative discussion. I also discussed in some detail the recent efforts to open the juvenile courts in Los Angeles.

I also provided attendees with power point materials that included relevant case law authorities and excellent sources of information in the community. The program was a great success and I look forward to the opportunity to speak again to juvenile law practitioners.

I really enjoyed offering my expertise and knowledge of child abuse and juvenile law as both a juvenile dependency attorney and criminal attorney to this group in an interactive way.

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According to a recent story published on NPR, the last ten years have witnessed a decrease in the number of incarcerated male juveniles and an increase in the number female juveniles being detained in jails and residential institutions.

A report entitled “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls”, from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, estimates that females make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, accounting for more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges each year.

Co-author of the report, Georgetown University professor Peter Edelman, maintains that many of the girls that end up in the justice system have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse. Edelman claims that over fifty percent of the female juveniles aren’t being detain for serious crimes but more often are skipping school, breaking curfew or running away from home. Edelman believes that “Getting them back into school and getting them back on a path without invoking the sanctions of the juvenile and criminal justice system… is so much better in terms of not leaving those wounds and scars and preserving the possibilities for the future.”

The Georgetown report contends that juveniles don’t belong in adult jails or prisons and should not be incarcerated for minor offenses such as violating probation. This position has come under sharp criticism from opponents such as Dakota County, Minnesota district attorney James Backstrom.

In the NPR story Backstrom argues, “We’re talking about kids that are violating curfew laws, being truant from school [and] violating court orders. Do we need the authority to pick those kids up? I think we do.” Backstrom continued, saying “[I]f you ignore the small issue, you might not get to the big issue before it’s too late.”

It would appear that some states, including California, are moving at least a little closer to the position outlined in the Georgetown Report. As previously discussed by this blog, the California Supreme Court, in People v. Caballero, recently struck down lengthy prison sentences for juveniles on non-homicide offenses that effectively amounted to a sentence of life without parole.

One example of the negative impact the justice system can have on juveniles is Jabriera Handy. Four years ago, Handy was incarcerated at the Baltimore City Detention Center after her grandmother died of a heart attack shortly after Handy fought with her. Because her grandmother had died so shortly after the fight, Handy was charged as an adult with second degree murder and spent eleven months in the detention center.

Handy recalled one instance where the detention center was locked down after another inmate was stabbed to death. According to Handy, she saw the man was” just laying there with a limp body,” but had to continue on to school like nothing had happened. “[I]t wasn’t like anybody came to us to talk about what [we had] just seen,” Handy stated.

Continue reading →