Department of Justice to Investigate St. Louis County Family Court

Picture from freerepublic.com

Across the country each day, family and Juvenile courts have children passing by their benches on the way to a future that may involve severe limitations on their freedom.  Armored in the protections of the constitution and federal law, each child should have a fair and just trial and, if applicable, appropriate rehabilitations and punishments.  This should all transpire blind to all but truth.  Occasionally we wonder however if lady justice is peeking from behind her blindfold, and if what she is seeing is guiding her sword hand.  The Department of Justice is asking this question with regard to St. Louis county family courts:

The Justice Department announced today [November 18] that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation of the Family Court of St. Louis.  The investigation will focus on whether the court provides constitutionally required due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings and whether the court’s administration of juvenile justice provides equal protection to all children regardless of race.

This investigation will include a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, court documents and statistical data.  As part of this investigation, the department will reach out to juvenile justice stakeholders, including community members and groups with knowledge of the Family Court’s processes.

In this investigation the focus seems to be on self-improvement,

“Protecting the constitutional rights of all children appearing in court is critical to achieving our goals of improving juvenile courts, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system and maintaining public safety,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “During the course of this investigation, we will consider all relevant information, particularly any efforts the court has undertaken to ensure compliance with the Constitution and federal law.”

While any wrongdoing is yet to be determined, in a system ran by fallible people it is nice to know that when these questions arise the system is occasionally willing to self-correct.  These investigations are rare, however there have been a few over the last handful of years leading to lawsuits and settlements across the country.  When our blindfolds start to slip, its nice to know we can be willing to set down our sword and scale long enough to tighten the knots on our blindfold.

 

Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

New Juvenile Justice Center Answer to Larger Load of Cases, mystateline.com

ROCKFORD – It’s just short move across Elm Street from the 4th floor of the Public Safety Building to the new Winnebago County Juvenile Justice Center.  The move is one the court system has been waiting for since they were forced to move to the PSB back in 2007.

“The old building was never suitable,” said Hon. Joseph McGraw, chief justice 17th Circuit Court.

“It was a make-do and we were told it would be for a year or two.  One year lead into another and another year and we again just had to make do.”

But making do lead to inefficiencies in juvenile court, and with nearly 3,300 pending cases before juvenile court judges, it something they simply couldn’t afford to do.

A Day in Family Court, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK — Daphne Culler whispered the words from the courtroom visitor’s bench, so quietly practically no one could hear.

“Just relax,” she said.

Culler, her face impassive, never broke eye contact with her daughter, who sat across the room at the witness table.

The 15-year-old, who was accused of assaulting a shop owner, mumbled each answer. Twice the judge told her to speak up. Her demeanor alternated between anxiety and annoyance at the repeated questions, a quick smile sometimes flashing across her face until the next question called her to attention.

Missouri Sentencing Law for Juveniles Draws Criticism, The Kansas City Star

JEFFERSON CITY — The Platte County prosecutor, who heads a statewide association for prosecuting attorneys, said Tuesday that lawmakers’ failure to pass a new sentencing structure for juveniles could delay or jeopardize the trials of teens accused of murder.

Under Missouri law, anyone convicted of first-degree murder is either sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 said death sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, leaving life without parole as the only sentencing option for Missourians under 18 who are convicted of murder.