Katie's Blog

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Senate Bill 889: All People Under 21 To Be Tried as Minors

people under 21 to be tried as minors

A bill was introduced at the California state Capitol in January 2020 in hopes of changing the way young people were treated in the state’s justice system. Senate Bill 889 was introduced in an effort to have all people under 21 to be tried as minors. There were a number of arguments for and against the measure, including an emphasis on the scientific reasons young people may not be fully developed mentally or emotionally and, as such, not fully responsible for their actions.

Considerations of Senate Bill 889

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 889 in January 2020, in an effort to have California lawmakers expand the reach of the juvenile system to include people under 21 who would be automatically tried as minors. There was a significant amount of support for the bill, including among some state probation officers who believed that teenagers are not mature enough to be held responsible for their actions as adults.

Skinner stated that she proposed Senate Bill 889 in “recognition that people under 21 still need guidance.” She pointed out that other laws in the state, including restrictions on purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis, require an individual to be at least 21 years old which is indicated as the “adult or responsible age.”

Minors and the Juvenile Justice System

In 2018 in the state of California, 17,200 minors under the age of 17 were arrested for felonies. More than half of those were Black and 36% were Latino. Also in 2018, about 14,400 individuals aged 18 and 19 were arrested for felonies. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), based in San Francisco, estimated that, by trying individuals aged 20 and younger in juvenile courts, the juvenile facilities would see thousands of new inmates.

There were concerns on both sides of the proposed bill. Some worried that by raising the age for someone to be considered a juvenile, that individual might end up spending more time in a juvenile facility than they would if they were sent to an adult facility to serve their time. In addition, the director of the CJCJ, Daniel Macallair, feared that some may have backed the bill as a way to project jobs in the juvenile system. He pointed out that juvenile arrests have decreased steadily in the past few years and that a number of juvenile halls have few inmates or are in danger of closing.

Juvenile Justice Reform in California

Senate Bill 889 builds on a long history of juvenile justice reform in the state of California, starting with efforts by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. The governor, responding to criticisms over harsh conditions in juvenile facilities, overhauled the California Youth Authority, which held approximately 3600 minors at the time.

Further reform was seen in 2007, with Governor Jerry Brown who gave more control to county probation departments, followed by the efforts of Governor Gavin Newsom in his first year in office. Governor Newsome suggested that control of state juvenile inmates should be moved away from corrections and placed under the purview of government health and human services officials.

The Science of Young Minds

The efforts of Senator Skinner and others to have people under 21 treated as minors in the justice system is partially based on science. In fact, many landmark cases in the US Supreme Court have changed the legal responses to juvenile offending. These cases have abolished the death penalty for adolescents, found that the mandatory sentences of life without parole for murder violate the 8th Amendment, and eliminated sentences of life without parole sentences for crimes less than murder.

The adolescent brain is still developing. Scientific research has found that young people are highly subject to the influences of reward and of their peers. Neuroscience, in particular, has found that adolescents mature at significantly different rates. This has also helped improved the general understanding of juvenile offenders.

Research has clarified that teenagers’ heightened vulnerability to reward drives their risky behavior. This vulnerability can continue into an individual’s early 20s, depending on the person’s specific rate of development. Young people can often recognize the risks but given the still incomplete development of their brain mechanisms related to modulating their impulsive behavior, their tendency to heed those risks is often reduced.

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

California Appeals Court: New Hearing for Teen Sentenced to 90 Years

California Appeals Court New Hearing for Teen Sentenced to 90 Years

A young man who was convicted of a 2009 murder, and who has since initiated a series of appeals and petitions for review, will have a new hearing to determine whether he was properly tried as an adult, rather than as a juvenile. The California Appeals Court has determined that the man sentenced to 90 years in prison when he was a teen is now entitled to a new hearing.

The Story

In June 2009, Harquan Johnson, who was 17 at the time, and his friend, KeAndre Windfield, then 18 years old, were involved in a series of arguments that turned into a violent dispute. After much back and forth between various individuals, Johnson and Windfield shot two people, one of which was Montoyea Smith, who died from his gunshot wounds. 

Johnson and Windfield were convicted of one count of murder and one count of attempted murder each, in addition to assault with a semi-automatic firearm. There were also gun discharge and gang enhancement allegations involved in the murder and attempted murder counts. Johnson and Windfield were each sentenced to 90 years to life as a result of their convictions.

A New Hearing

The Court of Appeal of the state of California held, in a ruling filed on January 4, that Johnson is entitled to a hearing to determine whether he should have been tried as an adult or as a juvenile, since he was 17 when he committed the crime. The court referenced Proposition 57, passed in 2016, which decided that the judge and not the prosecutor is required to determine whether juveniles charged with certain crimes should be tried in juvenile or adult court.

Additionally, and particularly important in Johnson’s case, the court ruled that the law can be applied retroactively. The appeals court also stated that courts can conduct hearings to determine whether past transfers of juveniles to adult court were proper. 

Proposition 57

Known as the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” Proposition 57 made changes to the State Constitution to increase the number of inmates eligible for parole consideration and authorized California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to award sentencing credits to inmates. 

The measure also made changes to state law to require that youths have a hearing in juvenile court before they can be transferred to adult court. The measure stated that juvenile court judges shall make determination, upon prosecutor motion, whether juveniles age 14 and older should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults for specified offenses.

The Court’s Discussion

In the court’s ruling granting Johnson a new hearing, they said that in their original opinion, they had commented that there was no sentencing memorandum submitted by counsel for Johnson, the probation report contained scant information about Johnson personally, and neither counsel for Johnson nor the sentencing court addressed this topic of youth factors during sentencing. 

The Appeals Court concluded that, having been charged in adult court as a juvenile, Johnson is entitled to an opportunity to make a record of mitigating evidence tied to his youth. The court’s decision also stated that, in conducting the transfer hearing, the juvenile court shall treat the matter as though the prosecutor had originally filed a juvenile petition in juvenile court and had then moved to transfer Johnson’s cause to a court of criminal jurisdiction. 

If the new hearing determines that Johnson is “not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law,” then Johnson’s convictions and sentence are to be reinstated. However, if the juvenile court finds that it would not have transferred Johnson to adult court, it shall treat his convictions as juvenile adjudications and impose an appropriate “disposition” within its discretion.

The Appeals Court ordered, in the event Johnson is unfit for treatment in juvenile court, a limited remand of Johnson’s sentence to provide an opportunity to present evidence of mitigation due to his youth. As to Johnson’s co-defendant Windfield, also listed in the appeals decision, the sentence was affirmed, since he was 18 when he committed the crimes. 

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Trying Juveniles as Adults in Los Angeles County

juvenile justice
This year has been exceedingly challenging for students in California owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures and financial hardships have created a climate of despair for millions of young people. Mental health services are needed now more than ever in order to prevent school suspensions and expulsions. Mental illness often plays a role in the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Juvenile justice is a topic of utmost importance at the Law Offices of Katie Walsh. We are pleased to announce some significant changes in Los Angeles County proposed by the new district attorney—George Gascón. 

Last week, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County announced his plans to shake up criminal prosecutions, The Los Angeles Times reports. Taking a page out of the book he helped write as the District Attorney of San Francisco from 2011 to 2019, Gascón plans to stop the practice of cash bail; he also wants to place a ban on prosecutors seeking enhanced prison sentences. 

What’s more, he plans a review of thousands of old cases to see if less harsh sentences are warranted. Gascón office will also determine if prisoner releases should be meted out. 

“I recognize for many this is a new path … whether you are a protester, a police officer or a prosecutor, I ask you to walk with me. I ask you to join me on this journey,” said Gascón during his swearing-in ceremony. “We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma and arrest and recidivism that has led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation.”


Trying Juveniles as Adults

The shift in policy regarding bail will certainly be a hot-button topic. However, starting January 1, prosecutors in Gascón’s office will ask judges to release plaintiffs, except in homicide or other violent felony cases. 

“How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for how dangerous you are,” Gascón said. “Today there are hundreds of people languishing in jails, not because they represent a danger to our community but because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom.” 

Prisoners who’ve served 20 years or more might be granted parole if the new district attorney has his way. Moreover, Gascón has vowed that his office will never seek the death penalty. Gascón’s plans also extend to juveniles. He promises to end the practice of trying juveniles as adults. 

Jerod Gunsberg, a Los Angeles juvenile criminal defense attorney, praised Gascón for his goal of no longer trying minors as adults, according to the article. He points out that the practice has had “deep, negative effects on accused teenagers and society as a whole.” 

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve never seen a kid go into a juvenile probation camp and come out better. Ever,” said Gunsberg. “I’ve never seen a kid have a strike filed on them, at 16 years old and it improve their life or enhance public safety in any way.”


Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter faces legal difficulties or school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the experience to advocate for your family and achieve a favorable outcome. She has handled thousands of juvenile cases, and as a former prosecutor, she knows the ins and outs of the juvenile court system.

Friday, November 13, 2020

New Report On School Suspensions

school suspensions
Each time a student is removed from the classroom in the name of discipline, it can do more harm than good. Students barred from attending class due to punitive measures are more likely to get into more trouble, and they are at risk of getting behind with schoolwork because of lost instructional time. What's more, study after study shows racial disparities with both suspensions and expulsions. 

Last month, the San Diego Unified School Board unanimously approved a new discipline policy, one that is a step away from punitive discipline for students. The new policy emphasizes alternative-to-suspension programs for students who get in trouble, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Schools will be required to utilize "restorative" interventions before opting to suspend a student. 

The new policy also addresses grading practices throughout the district. Teachers will separate non-academic factors from academic grades and give students the opportunity to re-do assignments. 

While California already bans suspensions for "willful defiance" for elementary and middle grades, the San Diego Unified School Board plans to negotiate with teachers to do away with such suspensions across all grades. Those in favor of the move point out that banning willful defiance suspensions will help address racial disparities, particularly in the disciplining of Black and Latino students. 

Discriminatory discipline is a severe problem in the United States, according to a national analysis of school suspension data by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

Lost Opportunities

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies and Learning Policy Institute found "disturbing disparities" among racial groups regarding school suspensions, Patch reports. Their study titled "Lost Opportunities: How Disparate School Discipline Continues to Drive Differences in the Opportunity to Learn" looked at the impact of out-of-school suspensions on instructional time. 

There were 11,392,474 days of instruction lost in America due to out-of-school suspension during the 2015-16 school year. The researchers say that is the equivalent of 62,596 years of instruction lost. What's more, the difference in suspension rates between Black and white students was stark. The report shows:
  • Black students lost 103 days per 100 students enrolled, 82 more days than the 21 days their white peers lost due to out-of-school suspensions.
  • Black boys lost 132 days per 100 students enrolled.
  • Black girls had the second-highest rate, at 77 days per 100 students enrolled, which was seven times the rate of lost instruction experienced by white girls at the secondary level.
"These stark disparities in lost instruction explain why we cannot close the achievement gap if we do not close the discipline gap," said Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the lead researcher on the report. "With all the instructional loss students have had due to COVID-19, educators should have to provide very sound justification for each additional day they prohibit access to instruction."

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter faces school expulsion or another legal matter. Call now for a free, confidential consultation, (714) 351-0178. Attorney Walsh will work with your family to help you achieve the best possible outcome.

Friday, October 9, 2020

New Juvenile Justice Reforms

juvenile justice
Last month, we continued our coverage of salient topics relating to criminal and juvenile justice in California. We covered the newly created Department of Youth and Community Restoration (YCR). Under the California Health and Human Services Agency, the YCR will replace the Division of Juvenile Justice. The YCR:
"Shall embrace a vision wherein the youth under its care transition successfully into adulthood, desist from criminal behavior and become thriving and engaged members of their communities. It is the mission of YCR to help youth who have hurt people, and have been hurt themselves, return safely to the community and become responsible and successful adults."
Governor Newsom intends to oversee the closing of the state's four remaining juvenile detention centers. As we shared last month, the state will no longer accept most youth offenders beginning next July. Those currently housed in state-run juvenile detention centers will serve out their time. All new offenders will be housed in county facilities under the mandate. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom is committed to shaking up both the criminal and juvenile justice system. Last month, the governor signed:
  • Assembly Bill 1196 (by Assemblymember Mike Gipson): which bans the use of the carotid restraint, a method of rendering a person unconscious by restricting blood flow to the brain.
  • Assembly Bill 1506 (by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty): which requires the California Attorney General to conduct investigations into officer-involved shootings of unarmed individuals that result in death.

Juvenile Justice Reforms

Senate Bill 823 by the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review is the first step of closing the Division of Juvenile Justice. Fulfilling his pledge to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, Gov. Newsom signed several bills that also relate to young Californians. Those include:
  • Assembly Bill 901 (by Assemblymember Mike Gipson): will end the practice of referring youth who are having problems at school to probation programs.
  • Senate Bill 203 (by Senator Steven Bradford): requires that children under age 17 have an opportunity to consult with legal counsel before interrogation.
  • Senate Bill 1290 (by Senator Maria Elena Durazo): will cancel certain fees assessed on juvenile offenders and their families.
  • Assembly Bill 1950 (by Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager): caps probation terms to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felonies.
"Americans across the country took to the streets this summer rightfully demanding more and better of our criminal justice system – and of ourselves," said Governor Newsom. "We heard those calls for action loud and clear and today are advancing reforms to improve policing practices by ending the carotid hold and requiring independent investigations in officer-involved shootings. We are also taking important steps to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Still, we can and must do more. Working with our youth, faith and community leaders, law enforcement, the Legislature and countless others demanding change, my Administration remains committed to the important work ahead to make our criminal and juvenile justice systems fairer and safer for all Californians."


Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter is in legal trouble or faces school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has the expertise to advocate for your loved one's well-being successfully. For a free consultation, call Katie Walsh at (714) 351-0178.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Closing the Division of Juvenile Justice

juvenile justice
With the adjournment of the annual state legislative session, we thought we'd share with you some of the bills that made it to the governor's desk. We would also like to focus on a significant change to juvenile justice in California. 

Even though state lawmakers had to contend with conflicts relating to COVID-19, some interesting pieces of legislation made it to Governor Gavin Newsom. Such bills include but are not limited to legislation that would shorten probation terms (Assembly Bill-1950), enable parolees to earn a quicker end to supervision (Assembly Bill-2342), and create a state-level re-entry commission (Senate Bill-369). 

In May, Governor Newsom proposed closing the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and all its remaining state facilities in favor of local alternatives as part of the 2020-21 state budget. The announcement was met with sharp criticism; however, it looks like the novel plan may come to fruition. 

State lawmakers were able to get a trailer bill, AB-1868: Juvenile Justice Realignment, to Newsom's office in the session's final hours. An agreement was struck laying the groundwork for a new kind of juvenile justice, one that shifts the focus away from incarceration in favor of rehabilitation.

The Office of Youth and Community Restoration

In the place of the DJJ, the new Office of Youth and Community Restoration, a part of the state's Health and Human Services Agency, will "have critical responsibilities to oversee county juvenile justice systems, administer funding, and ensure local policies and practices reflect the state's priorities for children and families." Grants will be given to counties to provide custody and supervision.

"That kind of systemic transformation is exactly what I think we're learning needs to happen in this time when you've seen much tumult around how the criminal justice system operates and whether it's fair and equitable particularly as it relates to the treatment of kids of color," said Chet Hewitt, of the reform group California Alliance for Youth & Community Justice. 

There are currently four DJJ facilities that house about 775 youths, according to The Imprint. The majority are at three youth prisons, and 70 are at the Amador County fire camp, which trains youths in firefighting. Beginning next July, the state will no longer accept most youth offenders. The agreement made with the governor's office also raises the age to 25 for some youth to remain in the juvenile justice system. 

Next year, local governments will be tasked with detaining youth offenders in county detention centers. Those currently serving time in state-run juvenile detention centers will remain in state custody until their time is served or they reach age 25. The Amador fire camp will continue training youths under the new system.

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

Please contact the Law Office of Katie Walsh if your son or daughter faces legal difficulties or school expulsion. Attorney Walsh has significant expertise in these matters and can advocate for your family. You can reach us at 714-351-0178 for a free consultation. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the many forest fires raging across the state. We hope that everyone finds themselves safe.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Contra Costa Officials to Change Juvenile Justice System

Contra Costa Juvenile Justice System Reform

At the beginning of this month, supervisors from Contra Costa County said that they intend to change the county’s juvenile justice system for the better. During a meeting which lasted nearly 12 hours and featured presentations from multiple agencies, supervisors said that they expect county officials to collaborate and decide whether to close either Juvenile Hall in Martinez or the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility near Byron.

While officials remain divided on the path to resolution, they all agree that achieving the best outcomes for young people in Contra Costa County is their top priority, according to Bay City News. They say that their decision will be part of a larger dialogue seeking to reimagine youth justice in the area. Several of the supervisors stated that they expect Chief Probation Officer Esa Ehmen-Krause and District Attorney Diana Becton to work with others on a task force regarding this issue.

Alternatives to Juvenile Hall

Many members of the public have raised the idea of redirecting law enforcement funds to non-police mental health crisis response. Contra Costa supervisors praised this program, although they have not yet stated whether they intend to allocate funds from the sheriff’s budget to this end.

“The task force is more than about Juvenile Hall,” said Supervisor John Gioia. “It’s about the system.” Elected officials cite increased demand to redirect funding from law enforcement to instead support affordable housing, mental health, homeless outreach, and youth support services.

“I have stood for years and watched families wither in the face of the juvenile justice system,” stated Deputy Public Defender Nicole Eiland. “We want to keep our children out of trauma-inducing facilities like Juvenile Hall.”

California: Juvenile Hall by the Numbers

Over the past ten years, the number of children behind bars has decreased dramatically from the record high of the 1990s. This is partially due to a dismantling of the punitive approach to youth offenses. Instead, efforts have recently shifted to prevention in the form of social programming, early intervention, and outreach.

In Contra Costa County, the juvenile detention population has steadily decreased since 2002. This is a welcome deviation from the predicted “crime wave” officials threatened in the 1990s, a scare tactic which ultimately resulted in:
  • $750 million allocated to the construction of new juvenile facilities
  • California’s three-strikes law, which could send a person with three felonies away for life, and
  • A 2000 ballot initiative that made it easier for children to be tried as adults with harsher minimum sentences.

Fortunately, this crime wave never materialized. In fact, juvenile crime has decreased steadily since the mid ‘90s – a trend which seems poised to continue. Felonies, infractions, and misdemeanors fall year over year. Today, officials intend to allocate these heavy punitive budgets towards preventative efforts, including providing first-time youth offenders with anger management, substance abuse treatment, and connection with social services.

This is an important change, because evidence shows that sustained juvenile detention can have a negative impact on a child’s future, mental health, and quality of life.

The Effects of Youth Confinement

According to federal guidelines, “the purpose of juvenile detention is to confine only those youth who are serious, violent, or chronic offenders… pending legal action. Based on these criteria, it is not considered appropriate for status offenders and youth that commit technical violations of probation.” In spite of this, nearly 4,000 youth are held in juvenile detention centers for low-level offenses. National leaders in the field of juvenile justice support the prohibition of juvenile detention as a dispositional option.

Research shows that adult-style prisons – which many youth facilities are modeled after – lack the essentials required for healthy adolescent development. Young people require engaged adults focused on their development, a peer group which models prosocial behavior, activities which foster positive decision-making, and opportunities for academic success. They also may be exposed to further trauma as a result of incarceration, which can serve to reinforce poor choices and impulsive behavior. Experts say that instead of helping kids to get back on track, youth incarceration may result in the exacerbation of the negative behaviors which brought these children to the attention of the courts in the first place.

With change on the horizon for Contra Costa County, it is hoped that other California systems will seek to begin further juvenile justice reform efforts.

Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

If your child is facing legal difficulties, please contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh. Attorney Walsh utilizes her years of experience as a former prosecutor to advocate for your child and achieve the best possible outcome.