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.

Being Aware of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Many Minorities Fall Victim to

Rehabilitation efforts are key to addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. Resources are of the essence when it comes to these situations. Yet, there is a lack of these resources when it comes to the criminal justice system seeping into the educational environments. The result of this causes children to be removed from their education and directed into the prison system.

Throughout the United States in 2000, there were over three million school suspensions and over 97,000 expulsions.” The punitive actions taken on these children show them that they are “bad children,” which can build a belief with themselves that they don’t belong in an educational environment. These punitive actions are not positive actions taken to aid children, yet they are more negative and escalate the bad behavior the children are having. In many cases, there are educators and guidance counselors who want to help these troubled youth but the resources at their exposure are not enough to provide the help these children need. Additionally, many of these children have disabilities that are not addressed as stated, “in some states such as Florida and Maine, as many as 60% of all juvenile offenders have disabilities that affect their ability to learn.” The children’s need for help is high, yet their needs cannot be met with the level of resources that is available to them.

Minorities, specifically Black children are hurting the most from insufficient resources when it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline. As stated, “in 2000, African Americans represented only 17% of public school enrollment nationwide but accounted for 34% of suspensions.12 Likewise, in 2003, African-American youths made up 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population but accounted for 45% of juvenile.” These disparities are part of an ongoing racist, stereotype system that has been in the US for hundreds of years. Moreover, the quality of education in many Black neighborhoods is poor and places many of these Black children in unfortunate situations. The situations the Black children face may lead them to be treated unfairly. History has shown that minorities have been victims of unequal educational opportunities and educational funding. The inequality from this has led to the suffering of many children to misbehave or skip school. When these actions are taken by these children the punitive consequences are then handed to them, where it creates a cycle of continued misbehavior. That cycle then results in many of these children being placed in prison at a young age and never having the chance to be rehabilitated to do better for themselves and their families.

A way to fight the school-to-prison pipeline is to investigate ways schools discipline their children. Create better practices for the troubled youth to help them understand their skills and abilities. Being able to lift someone’s spirits can go a long way. Additionally, provide the children with better guidance by having a counselor, building a success plan, providing mediation/after-school programs, and anything that will bring a smile to the children’s faces. Many times, troubled youth just need someone to talk to about what is going on in their life, and to have someone at times needed to have that conversation can be valuable to the child’s future success.

On October 21, 2021, from 4-5 pm the University of Houston is having a free virtual seminar titled “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” You can RSVP here: https://cloudapps.uh.edu/sendit/l/TfPadoe0dATtluDVszZAwQ/vuj6ArX8eJiymXcuifQ9Yg/nKHYspsdU75Esbp7LuY763LA

October is for Youth Justice Awareness Month

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month. With that in mind, the entries for this month will focus primarily on issues related to the juvenile justice system. The following post offers a brief discussion on the right to counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings.

In 1967, the Supreme Court recognized juveniles’ right to Due Process under the 14th Amendment in the landmark case In re Gault. This decision granted juvenile defendants many of the same due process rights afforded to adults, including the right to formal notification of the charges against them, the right against self-incrimination, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to counsel. While this was a huge victory for children and child’s rights advocates, the reality of the situation is decidedly less triumphant.

In most cases, the right to counsel “kicks in” just prior to the child’s initial detention hearing; at this point, the child and their parents are notified of their right to counsel and the child is appointed an attorney if the child is determined indigent. However, this is not the child’s first point of contact with the juvenile justice system—that would be when the child is first taken into custody. This is a critical point for the child, as things can potentially go very wrong if they do not have access to counsel at this early stage. Research has shown that children are far more susceptible to coercion than adults, so it is likely that a child may offer incriminating evidence upon being questioned, irrespective of their guilt or innocence. Furthermore, children typically lack a thorough (or in many cases, even cursory) understanding of how the justice system works, so it is imperative they have an advisor at every stage of the process to ensure their rights are protected.

To illustrate this point, one need only look to Fare v. Michael C. (1979), where the Supreme Court established that a juvenile’s right to counsel must be explicitly invoked. In this case, the child’s request to see their probation officer (a trusted adult) was deemed insufficient to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and therefore the child’s statements made during police interrogation were all admissible in court. But how can we expect children to know precisely whom to ask for help, and when? How are children supposed to know the right things to say, or not to say, when most adults in similar positions are equally unaware? The justice system is complex and the children who find themselves within it are often under a great deal of stress—not only from the experience itself, but also from outside influences such as their parents, police, prosecutors, and even judges. 

Furthermore, the notion that a child can waive their constitutional rights—in particular the right to counsel—is ludicrous, and such waivers should be per se unallowable. The decision giving juveniles the right to counsel in Gault was predicated on due process considerations, rather than the right to counsel guaranteed by the 6th Amendment. While an adult’s right to waive counsel in criminal proceedings arises out of the 6th Amendment, due process under the 14th Amendment does not necessitate the same result for juveniles. In fact, given the developmental differences between children and adults, it would be clearly out of line with due process considerations to allow juveniles to waive their right to counsel. The chances of obtaining a “voluntary,” “knowing” and “intelligent” waiver (as is required by law) from a child are severely diminished in consideration of the various stressors the child faces while in contact with the system. This, combined with the fact of the still-developing adolescent brain and compounded by the vital role of counsel in juvenile proceedings, make waiver of the right to representation totally inappropriate in these cases.

 If a child under these circumstances can waive their right to counsel, how can any of their other constitutional rights be guaranteed? Without an inalienable right to representation in delinquency proceedings, the due process considerations extended to juveniles in Gault are effectively meaningless. Therefore, the right to counsel should activate automatically and inviolably at the earliest stage possible to ensure that a child’s rights are protected throughout the entire juvenile justice process.

For a more thorough discussion on this topic, see:

Gary G. Strieker, Waiver of Constitutional Rights by Minors: A Question of Law or Fact, 19 Hastings L.J. 223 (1967). Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol19/iss1/9

Ellen Marrus, Gault, 40 Years Later: Are We There Yet?, 44 Criminal Law Bulletin 413 (2008), U of Houston Law Center No. 2014-A-51. Available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2450171