Stuck between a rock and a hard place: Juvenile Waivers

Seven high school football players in New Jersey have been charged with committing violent sexual hazing, including aggravated sexual assault. The boys await their first hearing this week, and if prosecutors are successful in requesting waivers, some or all of the boys might be tried as adults in criminal court.

Whether a case is moved into the adult system depends on several factors, including the history of the teenager, his age and the nature of the charge. They may also consider a victim’s opinion, said Laura Cohen, a professor at Rutgers Law School who is focused on juvenile justice issues.

“Some don’t want children subjected to the very harsh ramifications of an adult prosecution and conviction,” she said.

Even if the boys are to remain in juvenile court, the punishment is no less harsh:

For a 15-year-old charged with a serious offense, a defense attorney can fight a waiver by arguing that his client is a good candidate for the sort of rehabilitation programs that are the focus of the juvenile justice system. But after age 16, that option mostly disappears, Ms. Cohen said, and all prosecutors need to do to obtain a waiver is prove probable cause that the teenager committed the crime.

Even if they remain in the juvenile system, the teenagers could still face stiff punishments. A sex crime conviction could mean years in a juvenile detention center, and the teenager’s name would be added to a sex offender database. “It is not just a slap on the wrist,” Ms. Cohen said.

How 15-year-old boys can be “good candidates” for rehabilitation, whereas 16-year-olds cannot appears incredibly unfair and arbitrary, since in New Jersey, any child under 18 is considered a minor and is automatically in the juvenile justice system.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Nevada High Court Upholds Law Requiring Registration for Juvenile Sex Offenders, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

In a narrow 4-3 decision, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring the registration of certain juvenile sex offenders, even though all seven of the court’s justices had written previously that the law may not be an effective crime deterrent.

The majority opinion was penned by Justice Michael Douglas, who wrote that the law, which took effect in 2007, “easily passes rational basic review.” However, Douglas also wrote that he had questions as to whether the law commendably serves a public safety purpose or aides juveniles in the rehabilitation process.

“Of upmost concern,“ Douglas wrote, “it does not appear from the legislative history that the Nevada Legislature ever considered the impact of the bill on juveniles.”

The decision overturns a ruling issued by a juvenile district judge in Clark County, who invalidated the law. Under the law, juveniles over the age of 14 who have been adjudicated delinquent for sexual offenses must register with local law enforcement officials, who may then share the offender’s information with public groups.

OP-ED: House and Senate Committees Gut Funding to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

This past week, the House and Senate Appropriators approved substantial reductions in juvenile justice funding, including critical funding to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The House bill contains only $20 million for all states to implement Title II of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The Senate bill recommends $50 million. Both are well below the president’s proposed $70 million.

We shouldn’t let them make these cuts and here’s why:

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system. Title II of the law, which articulates core protections for system-involved youth to help states ensure young people are treated fairly and humanely, was updated more than 20 years ago with the “Disproportionate Minority Confinement” (DMC) provision. This provision requires that states, as a condition of receiving federal funds, identify and address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

MY WHOLE FAMILY IS DRUG ABUSERS AND CRIMINALS, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

“I’m from Johnson County. I’ve been here 4 months. I’ve been in seven times. First charge was damage to property—aiding and abetting (fleeing from cops) when I was 12-years old. My Mom came to see me. She comes every weekend from Lawrence. It’s about a 30-45 minute drive. She’s unemployed. Dad works in Olathe and visits every weekend. He works at a warehouse. I have two brothers. One is 15—in jail at Douglas County- battery and grand theft auto. The 13 year old is on ISP (intense supervised probation.) I have a 19-year-old sister who is finished with her term for shoplifting … and a 10-year-old sister – no trouble. My whole family is drug abusers and criminals. My Mom is four years recovered — clean from crack and alcohol. My Aunt did a year in Federal [prison] in Texas … for driving with a child in a car while intoxicated. This is my first LONG stay. I have been to ACT (Adolescent Center for Treatment) for rehab … It’s around the corner. Out patient rehabilitation when I was 13-14. I was on probation for battery. Assault is when you defend — battery is when you initiate. I was in junior high and living with my dad because my mom was in rehab. Then I moved in with my mom in Lawrence. I attended another middle school … kicked out for possession of narcotics with intent to distribute … Weed, meth, pills. I was 14.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juvenile Law Change Forbids Minors From Being Held in Adult Prison (Philadelphia) The Times Tribune

Juvenile justice advocates are applauding a rule change recently enacted by the state Supreme Court that precludes authorities from holding juveniles in adult prisons pending their appearance in juvenile court.

The rule, enacted on June 28, clarifies the definition of a detention facility to specifically prohibit county or state jails and extends the definition of a juvenile to include a minor who has been detained for violation of the terms of their probation.

The Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee suggested the rule change after learning of concerns that juveniles were sometimes being temporarily held in adult prisons pending a hearing in juvenile court to determine if the minor had committed the alleged violation that led to their detention.

Indiana High Court Increases Difficulty of Placing Minors on Sex Offender Registries, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

In a 5-0 decision, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Monday that before juvenile court judges can place minors on sex offender registries, evidentiary hearings must be held to determine whether the youth is likely to reoffend.

At the hearings, juvenile offenders must be given the opportunity to have counsel representation, be allowed to challenge evidence brought forth by prosecutors and present their own evidence, wrote Justice Loretta Rush in the court’s opinion.

“It is well within a trial court’s discretion to hold more than one hearing to determine whether a juvenile’s risk of re-offending warrants placing them on the sex offender registry,” Rush wrote. “But when it does so, every hearing held for that purpose must be an ‘evidentiary hearing…’ That is, juveniles must have the opportunity to challenge the State’s evidence and present evidence of their own.”