Teaching Intro to Juvenile Law in Street Law

 

Being a Street Law instructor involves teaching teenage youth. This is a group of people whose laws if charged as a juvenile is separate from adult law. Many may not know, where some may. Regardless of the importance of teaching the youth about the processes and procedures of their “separate” laws, typically based on policy or precedent, can be important to developing their advocacy skills.

An important aspect to teach the students in Street Law is about representation by a lawyer for a juvenile defender. First and foremost, if ever questioned by a police officer when being detained for a possible crime or suspect to one ask for representation. Typically, when telling the students about asking for a lawyer in the street law course many students are curious to know when to know to ask for a lawyer when being questioned by an officer. The response to this, is the person who is being questioned needs to ask the officer, “am I free to leave?” If the officer responds no, then that is when you may ask for a lawyer.

This typically leads to Miranda Warnings and students’ rights at school. To be able to teach Miranda is very important in knowing one’s rights when being questioned by law enforcement. When teaching the students about Miranda Warnings, usually the lesson will involve the difference between casual conversation, reasonable suspicion, and probable cause. There are many activities done with the students during this lesson to understand the actions that lead to custody and know when Miranda Warnings should be read to them.

When discussing how to get representation, an important policy to bring up with the students from Texas is the Fair Defense Act which “requires each county’s juvenile board to adopt a plan for the appointment of counsel to youth whose families are unable to afford counsel and sets out basic guidelines for the appointment process.” To know that there is a strong possibility of help when coming from a low-income or socioeconomic background can be reassuring with getting representation.

Another important aspect of juvenile defense that can be taught in Street Law is about representation when it comes to mental health disorders. The importance has to do with the rehabilitation of the juvenile towards their actions if they are the culprit of their alleged crime. It is important that the juvenile defense lawyer gets this information and if the juvenile defender fails to ask, it is important for the juvenile to tell the lawyer. This may be a step that is possibly forgotten from time to time and is imperative to help the charged juvenile. When there is a possibility that the charged juvenile has a mental health disorder, once it is told to the lawyer then it may be important to get an evaluation. The outcome of this evaluation will help the court make a better decision towards the charged juveniles’ well-being and the juvenile’s rehabilitation efforts if convicted of the crime.

Juvenile Law is very broad and can be applicable in many situations for teenagers and youth. For them to understand their basic constitutional rights can help in many different situations. Teaching this lesson will empower youth to advocate for themselves in many situations.

Jones v. Mississippi-the end of an era?

The Supreme Court without a doubt delivered a sucker punch to the gut with its decision in Jones– a sentencing authority need not find a juvenile is permanently incorrigible before imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. [i]

Did Kavanaugh and co. end the forward progress of distinguishing children from adults in the criminal justice system that defined the Kennedy-era court? Let’s take a look back and a step forward to assess the damage.

In Roper, Kennedy relied on science to determine adolescents are different than adults in holding that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual.”[ii] These three key differences included: (1) a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility”; (2) children are “more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures”; and (3) their “personality traits … are more transitory, less fixed.” [iii]

These fundamental differences were the basis of subsequent Supreme Court decisions affecting children in the juvenile justice system. In Graham v. Florida, the court held that it was unconstitutional for a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicidal offenses with Kennedy writing for the majority: “[j]uveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”[iv] In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court held that a child’s age is relevant for the Miranda custody analysis[v] and in Miller v. Alabama, the court held that mandatory life without the possibility of parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.[vi]

A few things to keep in mind post-Jones as detailed in Kristina Kersey’s article “Keeping up with the Jonses 10 Things I Kinda Maybe Don’t hate About Jones” (please see her article for a humor-filled spin on Jones with a more detailed analysis)[vii]:

  1. The Kennedy-era cases and their oft-cited language remain intact;
  2. States are allowed to provide additional limits;
  3. The “permanently incorrigible” standard is inconsistent with the science that laid the foundation in Roper and it progeny;
  4. Making youth a mitigating factor as opposed to a criteria requiring a finding of fact regarding incorrigibility allows for more creative arguments;
  5. All the conservative Justices agreed that age plays a role in sentencing; and
  6. When all else fails, skip to Sotomayor’s dissent and pretend it’s the opinion.

With the Court’s shift to the right, the road ahead may appear bumpier post-Jones, but hey, that’s never stopped us before.

[i] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S. Ct. 1307, 1317 (2021).

[ii] Esther Hong, “Justice Kennedy’s Justice for Juveniles: Roper’s Reach” (OxHRH Blog, 26 November 2018), <https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/justice-kennedys-justice-for-juveniles-ropers-reach> [October 29, 2021].

[iii] Id.

[iv] Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010).

[v] Hong, supra note 2.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Kristina Kersey, Keeping up with the Jones 10 Things I Kinda Maybe Don’t Hate About Jones, Nat’l Juvenile Def. Ctr. (July 2, 2021), https://njdc.info/wp-content/uploads/Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-7-2.pdf.

 

3 Stories You May Have Missed During #YJAM

1) Earlier this month, WPLN in partnership with ProPublica published an investigation into wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The story centers around the 2016 arrest of ten black elementary school students who had been caught on video witnessing a fight; the children were charged with “criminal responsibility for the conduct of another,” which is not in fact a punishable offense under the state’s criminal code. Investigators uncovered grossly problematic judicial oversight and widespread departmental misconduct—including the use of an illegal “filter system” for processing juveniles into detention—in a county that jails children at a rate nearly 10 times the national average.

https://wpln.org/post/black-children-were-jailed-for-a-crime-that-doesnt-exist-almost-nothing-happened-to-the-adults-in-charge/

As a result of this reporting, eleven members of Congress have petitioned the Department of Justice to conduct an official investigation into Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system.

https://wpln.org/post/members-of-congress-are-asking-for-an-investigation-into-rutherford-countys-juvenile-court-following-wplns-report/

2) Last week, the New York Times published an article detailing the abuse faced by children in Texas’ juvenile detention centers. According to interviewees, detention facilities are short-staffed—partly due to the pandemic—and without adequate supervision, kids confined to their rooms grow restless and are more likely to act out. Staff members have resorted to the use of physical violence to maintain order: unruly detainees have been subjected to beatings, pepper spray, as well as solitary confinement. These problems have persisted in the state’s juvenile justice system for decades despite numerous reform efforts and lawsuits brought by various child advocacy organizations.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/us/politics/texas-juvenile-prisons-abuse.html

3) Just this week, over 200 people imprisoned for crimes committed as juveniles in Oregon may become eligible for parole hearings or conditional releases under Governor Kate Brown’ s new commutation plan. The plan operates as a sort of constitutional salve for inmates serving time under the state’s mandatory sentencing measures regarding serious offenses. The governor’s order—which some experts have called “unprecedented”— emphasizes the importance of adolescent development considerations and the potential for rehabilitation for individuals incarcerated at a young age.

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/10/21/oregon-governor-grants-review-hearing-for-some-juvenile-offenders/

https://kobi5.com/news/local-news/hundreds-of-oregons-serious-juvenile-offenders-may-be-granted-clemency-under-commutation-plan-171229/