Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Boy Kills Neo-Nazi Dad: Protecting Family or Premeditated Murder?, LA Times

The fate of a 12-year-old boy charged with killing his neo-Nazi father now rests in the hands of a Riverside County Superior Court judge who must decide whether the youngster knew what he did was wrong, and what should be done with him.

The son’s attorney, Public Defender Matthew Hardy, told Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard that hate “cooked” inside the boy during years of being his father’s punching bag and after hearing Hall threaten to burn down the family’s Riverside home with his wife and children inside.

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio, however, urged the judge not to let the boy escape into the “Alice in Wonderland” juvenile justice system to avoid responsibility for a cold-blooded murder.  Soccio said Hall’s affiliation with the National Socialist Movement, while abhorrent to most, didn’t mean he was a bad parent, nor did it justify his murder.

If the judge agrees with the defense, the boy would be released, possibly into the foster care system. If she finds him responsible, she could send the youngster to a state prison facility for juveniles or a treatment facility for delinquents, or place him on probation. The boy could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23, at which time the district attorney’s office has the rarely used option of petitioning the court to extend his sentence one year at a time.

Hotel Employees Get Training in Spotting Sex Trafficking, StarTribune Minneapolis

A hotel guest who repeatedly refuses housekeeping services. A room paid for in cash, or a guest who doesn’t bring luggage. An older man checking in with a younger girl who looks disheveled or frightened.  All of these are of possible tip-offs to juvenile sex trafficking and part of a training session Tuesday at a downtown Minneapolis hotel. Hennepin County and the city launched the education effort with the Minnesota Lodging Association to train hotel employees to spot potential underage sex trafficking.

“It’s as easy to dial up for a juvenile to come to your hotel room as it is to order a pizza,” Minneapolis police Sgt. Greg Reinhardt said. With the help of ads online at the notorious, young girls and boys can be served up to be raped within a half-hour, he and others said.  Reinhardt said Minneapolis made 19 arrests last year in juvenile sex trafficking.

The children who are trafficked now can get help under a Safe Harbor law that allows them to be treated as victims and get social services rather than be treated as juvenile offenders.

Backsliding at DJS: Adding More Beds to Private Juvenile Treatment Facilities is Bad Policy, Baltimore Sun

State officials were right last week to postpone approval of a Department of Juvenile Services contract to increase the capacity of the privately owned Silver Oak Academy juvenile residential treatment facility in Carroll County. The department wants to double the number of beds there, from 48 to 96, in order to reduce the backlog of youthful offenders awaiting treatment in overcrowded lockups.

Getting more troubled young people out of detention centers and into treatment where they can receive the help they need is certainly a worthy goal. But the way the department is going about it flies in the face of the state’s own commitment to limit the size of such facilities to no more than 48 kids. Putting more beds at Silver Oak risks backsliding toward the kind of larger, harder-to-manage facilities that Maryland has been struggling move away from in recent years.

What’s so glaring about this case is that Silver Oak is the new incarnation of the old Bowling Brook Academy, a mega-facility that was forced to close when a boy died there while being restrained. Rite of Passage wasn’t in charge then, and its management of Silver Oak has gotten generally high marks. But why take a chance? Many youth experts say juveniles tend to do better in smaller facilities that are closer to their homes. That’s a wiser policy than backsliding along a path that’s already proven counterproductive.

Children and Homicide: A Tough Call

Last week, Sixty Minutes aired a segment on the murder of neo-Nazi leader Jeffrey Hall.  I hadn’t heard about the incident, which occurred last May, and was shocked to hear that Jeffrey Hall’s ten year old son was the alleged murderer.  This case brings up many issues about juvenile sentencing, child abuse, and children’s mental health.  Hall was the regional director for the National Socialist Movement, whose modern day political stances include strong anti-immigrant sentiments.  According to Sixty Minutes, Hall hosted meetings for the group in his home while his children, including his son, roamed about and brought his son along to patrol (with guns) the U.S./Mexico border for individuals attempting to cross the border.  Apparently one night after the family watched a movie and went to bed, Hall fell asleep on his couch.  His young son allegedly put a gun to his father’s head and shot him dead while he was sleeping.

The facts of this case are shocking and disturbing, but they also bring light to the importance of the juvenile justice system.  California’s juvenile justice system, as do many similar systems in other states, aim to not only protect the public from unsafe acts, but also to treat and rehabilitate the young offenders who are charged and adjudicated for crimes.  Children are viewed as not as culpable for their acts because their brains are not fully developed, and they are not necessarily capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. That premise is tough when matched with the facts of Hall’s murder: his son allegedly picked up the gun (that his father taught him to shoot), put it straight to his father’s head and pulled the trigger.  He may not have understood the consequences of his actions, but it would be hard to argue that he did not mean to pull the trigger.  Regardless, with only ten years under his belt, he has yet to hit his most formative years. And not to be disregarded in this case is the alleged physical abuse of Hall’s son, potential mental health issues, and a home environment that seems to encourage hate and violence.

Hall’s son is currently in juvenile detention and awaits his adjudication.  His defense attorney has stated that he might plead a defense of insanity.  In some states, however, youth can be tried as adults for certain crimes.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, however, children may not be given the death penalty even if they are tried in adult court.