Massachusetts Raises Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction to Age 18

On Wednesday, September 18, 2013, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation which raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years.  The legislation, H. 1432 “An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction,” expands juvenile court jurisdiction to 17-year-olds accused of crimes, and also provides for them to be ordered into the custody of the Department of Youth Services rather than adult prison or jail.  However, juvenile court judges have discretion to impose an adult sentence in cases involving extremely violent crimes.  Additionally, the 17-year-olds will no longer receive an adult criminal record, and they will benefit from other safeguards provided to juveniles.

9805579335-6680465958-zThe official website of the Massachusetts Governor quoted Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Michael F. Edgerton:  “‘This bill acknowledges that the brain development and maturity of a 17-year-old are legally important factors in addressing antisocial behavior and that the capacity of juveniles for rehabilitation exceeds that of adults.’”  Another supporter, Representative Alice Peisch, also focused on the role of adolescent development:  “Given research findings on adolescent development, I believe that the Commonwealth will benefit from housing 17-year-old offenders in juvenile correction facilities rather than the adult prison system.”  Further, she stated, “This law now ensures that all incarcerated youth are able to receive age-appropriate services and brings the Commonwealth into compliance with federal regulations on the separation of younger prisoners from adults.”

Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan sponsored H. 1432.  Senator Spilka stated, “I have fought for many years to make this change a reality.”  Moreover, “Our juvenile justice system plays a critical role in helping youth offenders get back on track.  Seventeen-year-olds are not adults – they are developmentally much more like the younger teenagers in the system, and their crimes are often the same types of offenses.  Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will provide teenagers with the age-appropriate rehabilitation and support services they need for future success.”

Massachusetts now joins thirty-nine other states and the federal government who use the age of 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction.

Photo:  Iaritza Menjivar / Governor’s Office

For more information:  http://www.mass.gov/governor/pressoffice/pressreleases/2013/0918-juvenile-jurisdiction-legislation.html.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Lawmaker: (Juvenile) Sentencing Reforms Will Stall, The Boston Herald

Gov. Deval Patrick’s sentencing reforms – which include making young first-degree murderers eligible for parole after just 15 years – will face skepticism and resistance on Beacon Hill from lawmakers, a top Democratic lawmaker told the Herald. ‘To restrict a court’s ability (to sentence) to 15 years, is potentially an injustice to public safety, to individuals who are affected by crime and to the decisions of the jury,’ (MA State Rep. Hank) Naughton said.

Patrick is expected to announce a plan today that would dramatically change sentencing guidelines for juveniles.  These include allowing some juveniles convicted of first-degree murder to be eligible for parole after 15 years as well as including 18-year-olds as juveniles. Patrick’s bill also would bar adult trials for juveniles accused of murder.  Patrick claims adding a provision like the 15-year parole eligibility is necessary because of a recent Supreme Court decision (Miller v. Alabama) that ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.

Ethiopian Women Claim Israel Gave Birth Control Shots Against Will: Program Halted as Scandal Grows Amid Decline in Birth Rate, The Jewish Daily Forward

Following a TV report alleging that Ethiopian Israeli women were being given contraceptive shots against their will, Israel’s Health Ministry has ordered physicians to put a stop to the practice.

A ‘Trippy’ High: Synthetic Drugs (Marijuana) can ‘Change Your Brain’ Users Say, Sun Sentinel

Heart palpitations, anxiety, vomiting, paranoid delusions, violent tendencies, death: That’s the sick high delivered by today’s synthetic drugs (marijuana). “It literally changes your brain, like the way you think,” said one former synthetic-marijuana user, Sam Hathaway, 17, of Pembroke Pines.  “I wanted to do something crazy,” after smoking it, said another, Nico Souberville, 18, of Miramar. “I wanted to hurt someone.”

Despite the health risks, despite the high-profile arrests involving the now-illegal drug, synthetic marijuana continues to attract a vulnerable demographic: Young, male and on the hunt for an easily accessible high. In numbers that mirror national statistics, poison information calls about synthetic marijuana more than doubled across South Florida in 2011, to 103 from 47 the year before, according to the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami. 2012 saw 106 cases.  About 70 percent of synthetic marijuana users were male, said Wendy Stephan, the center’s health education coordinator. The average age: 24.