Thursday, December 1, 2016

Prop 57: Big Changes for California Juveniles

prop 57
With November 8, 2016, seemingly long behind us, it is time for California defenders, prosecutors and judges to change their ways with regard to juveniles. California voters supported putting an end to what is known as “direct file,” a law that gave prosecutors the authority to dictate which juveniles would be tried in adult criminal court.

Concerns over direct file had been voiced for years, since the majority of teens being tried in adult court were minorities. Prosecutors in a number of California counties had been quick to direct file minorities, glaringly disproportionate to the instances of young Caucasians being direct filed. With the passing of Proposition 57, which gives judges the power to decide which minors are tried in adult court. The decision grants every juvenile the right to a hearing before a judge can make the decision to transfer a suspect to adult court, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) reports. With regard to Prop. 57:

“It allows a more deliberative approach, a more thoughtful approach and that’s the way it should work. It shouldn’t be a quick decision, made sometimes in as little as 48 hours, often with scant information,” said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. 

Naturally, there is a lot of work that needs to be done by everyone working in the field of juvenile justice, in order to ensure that the law works the way that is was designed. What’s more, Prop. 57 will lead to a number of adolescents, who would have historically been subject to direct file, staying within the juvenile courts, meaning the juvenile system will need to be prepared to offer services to significantly more teens, according to the article. Additionally, nobody is sure yet how Prop. 57 will apply to the thousands of teens who have already been transferred to the adult courts and are potentially serving time behind bars in adult jails and prisons.

The new law gives California judges a new criterion for deciding which juveniles should be sent up to adult court, the article reports. Judges will now take into consideration a juvenile defendant's “ongoing development and potential to change” before making a decision that could forever change the course of one’s life.

“The things that a court will look at are much more helpful to teenagers than the previous criteria were. They’re much more developmentally appropriate,” said Sue Burrell, policy and training director for the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center. 

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

California Prop 57: Ending Direct File

prop 57
Over the summer, we wrote about what is known as “direct file,” where states prosecutors have discretionary power about which court system to try a minor: juvenile or adult criminal court. California is one of 15 states that allows prosecutors to dictate the severity of an offense, deciding which court a juvenile case should be tried.

We pointed out that, direct file is used more commonly in certain California counties and that minorities are disproportionately affected by the process. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that black youth were 11.3 times more likely to be direct filed, compared to white minors. It should go without saying that being tried in the juvenile system is preferred over the adult-court, and the decision could seriously impact the future of a defendant.

California voters will decide on changing direct file, as part of Proposition 57, on November 8, 2016, KALW reports. Prop 57 seeks to reduce the prison population, save taxpayers millions and requires judges instead of prosecutors to decide whether minors should be prosecuted as adults, emphasizing rehabilitation for minors in the juvenile system.

"The race of the child and the county in which he or she commit this crime will determine whether or not he’ll be direct filed, not the severity of the crime," says Frankie Guzman from the National Center of Youth Law "and that is not what we should be basing these decisions on." 

Teenagers who find themselves caught in the adult criminal system are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to rehabilitation. Prop 57 aims to give people a chance to turn their life around, rather than possibly condemn them to a life in the system.

"Not only are we denying the benefit of rehabilitation, we are ensuring all the negatives that the adult system carries," Guzman says. "And so we often see young kids who really quickly have to grow and develop in a prison environment that is extremely violent." 

Instead of prosecutors deciding the fate of young people, minors would have a fitness hearing in juvenile court, the article reports. A judge will take a look at all the factors before deciding if a young defendant should be tried as an adult.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Protecting Sex Trafficking Victims in California

sex trade
While human trafficking is something that the majority of Americans only know of via Hollywood, it is in fact a tragic occurrence that happens all over the world. What’s more, while the practice of forcing teenage and young adult women into sexual slavery may be more commonly associated with overseas practices, it is something that occurs right here in the United States—even in the Golden State.

In an effort to help victims of the child sex and labor slave trade in California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a number of bills into law that would decriminalize prostitution and help protect victims, The Los Angeles Times reports. The idea is as follows: Somebody forced into sexual slavery cannot be held accountable for their actions in a court of law, the same way as someone who chooses to solicit.

One of the bills the Governor signed was Senate Bill 1322, a piece of legislation authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), according to the article. SB 1322 makes it so adolescents are no longer subject to crimes of solicitation and loitering with intent to commit prostitution. Both offenses are misdemeanors under California law. After the signing, Senator Holly Mitchell wrote on Twitter: 

Thank you @JerryBrownGov for signing SB 1322 and showing that California loudly states that “There is no such thing as a child prostitute!” 

What’s more, Governor Brown also decriminalized prostitution with the stroke of his pen last week. Additionally, the new legislation allows victims of human trafficking to have the previous prostitution convictions vacated and their records sealed. As you may have imagined, while such legislation makes sense, there are a number of people who are opposed to the new laws.

Another bill which is still under review is Senate Bill 1129, introduced by Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the article reports. If passed, SB 1129 would end mandatory minimum sentences for certain prostitution offenses.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ending Zero Tolerance In School

zero tolerance
Adolescents, like adults, are disciplined for certain offenses with the hope that said offender will not do it again. It starts at a young age, a child does something wrong—a parent determines the appropriate punishment to mete out. Life is about standards and rules, if one falls short or breaks a rule, punishment follows suit. The hope, it seems, as that by the time adulthood rolls around, an individual will be an upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately, sometimes a punishment does not match the caliber of the offense—especially in American schools. Across the country, what is known as “zero tolerance” policies are in place at practically every public school. Zero tolerance policies were specifically directed towards drugs or weapons. Students found to have either are subject to either suspension or expulsion. While that type of policy would seem to make sense, such policies may actually do more harm than good.

A new book is coming out soon that explores the nature of zero tolerance, with the hope of starting a conversation that could put an end to draconian rules in public schools. Professor Derek W. Black’s “Ending Zero Tolerance: The Crisis of Absolute School Discipline,” highlights the flaws of zero tolerance punishments on school-aged children, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Black teaches law at the University of Southern California. He writes:

“One of the most obvious flaws or irrationalities of zero tolerance and harsh discipline is that they lump so many dissimilar students in to the same groups. The first grader whose mother puts a cough drop in his backpack without him knowing is treated the same as the seventh grader who knows that cough drops are prohibited but brings them anyway because his throat hurts and he does not want to miss school. And the seventh-grade cough-drop smuggler is treated the same as the student who brings Advil to school and sells it. And the Advil-distributing student is treated the same as the student who sells steroids or marijuana to his classmates. They are all drug offenders according to their schools and subject to long-term suspension.”

The book covers a number of different areas, sourcing individual narratives, case law—and could prove to be an invaluable tool for both teachers and counselors. Hopefully, it will lead to more understanding and compassion when it comes to discipline in American schools.

“Harsh discipline practices,” writes Black, “are contrary to many of our many basic values, both social and legal.” 

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

California Restraining Order Scope Widened

restraining order
In the United States, if you feel that your health and safety is in jeopardy by another person, you can petition the courts for a restraining order. People who have a restraining order against them, risk jail time if they contact or come within a certain distance of the complainant. While every state varies with regard to the grounds for obtaining a restraining order and the scope of such orders, by and large they are considered to be effective measures in protecting individuals.

Those who file a restraining order are commonly people who have experienced domestic abuse, i.e. spousal violence. Such victims need reassurances that they will be protected if their abuser makes threats. Recently, the question arose if whether protection orders could be warranted and/or violated by attacking one’s children. A California court of appeals believed that to be the case.

A woman in Alameda County, California, who had filed a restraining order against an abusive ex-boyfriend, asked the courts to extend the restraining order; this came about because her abuser harassed her over the phone and beat her children after the restraining order took effect. While the judge did not see things her way, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco felt otherwise, SFGATE reports. The court of appeals said that the woman’s testimony “established a reasonable apprehension of future abuse.”

The ruling had an impact across the state because the court said “abuse is not limited to the protected party seeking the order,” according to the article. The court of appeals ruling led to judges throughout the state being instructed that “abuse against the children is abuse against a parent,” said the executive director of the Family Violence Appellate Project, Erin Smith.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Involuntary Manslaughter Via Text

Words of inspiration can enable people to have the courage to be bold and accomplish great things. Unfortunately, what people say can also have the power to cause great harm, especially to those who are struggling. The cliché saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” does not always hold true. People have the ability to exert their influence over their peers, causing them to do harm to themselves or others.

We all, in America, are guaranteed the right to free speech under the First Amendment. It is a cherished right that helps make the United States a great nation. However, there are times when the right to speak freely comes into question, incidents when what people write or say leads to a death for instance. Such is the case of a Michelle Carter, who in the 2014 sent dozens of text messages to her boyfriend Carter Roy III, 18, urging him to take his own life.

Roy did in fact take his own life, which Michelle Carter will stand trial for in Massachusetts, the Associated Press reports. A grand jury unanimously ruled that Carter’s texts had a "direct, causal link" to Roy’s death. Carter is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, and if she is found guilty the case could set a historic precedent.

"In sum, we conclude that there was probable cause to show that the coercive quality of the defendant's verbal conduct overwhelmed whatever willpower the eighteen year old victim had to cope with his depression, and that but for the defendant's admonishments, pressure, and instructions, the victim would not have gotten back into the truck and poisoned himself to death," Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court in the ruling.

One of the text messages that then 17 year old Carter sent her unstable boyfriend, who got out of his truck that he was filling up with tailpipe exhaust, instructed Roy to "get back in," according to the article. When Roy was unsure about going through with the suicide, Carter wrote:
  • "I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you're ready, you just need to do it!"
  • "You can't think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna do it. Like I don't get why you aren't."
Naturally, Carter's attorney Joseph Cataldo is claiming that her texts were free speech, falling under the protection of the First Amendment and were not the cause of Carter's death. Cataldo pointed out that Massachusetts doesn't have a law against encouraging or assisting suicide.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016

direct file
In certain states, the process of “automatic transfer” or “direct file” is a common occurrence in the juvenile court system. Automatic transfer mandates that minors over a certain age be charged as an adult, if their crimes are considered to be severe, typically for violent offenses. On the other hand, in 15 states prosecutors have discretionary power about which court system to try a minor, juvenile or adult criminal court—a practice which is referred to “direct file.”

It turns out that while direct file is relatively common, some county prosecutors use it more often than others. In California, a new report shows that the filing of adult criminal charges against a minor is far more common in certain California counties and such cases disproportionately involve young people of ethnic descent, Public News Service reports. The research was conducted by three nonprofit organizations.

"What this highlights is that it's not being used consistently by prosecutors," said Maureen Washburn, one of the report's co-authors and a policy analyst for the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, "That it's being used kind of at the discretion of a prosecutor and doesn't align with rates of crime that are happening in that county." 

The findings indicate the practice occurs the least in San Francisco county because all minors are allowed a fitness hearing before a juvenile-system judge, according to the article. However, that is not a luxury afforded minors in every county, the California counties with the highest rates of direct file, include:
  • Yuba
  • Kings
  • Sutter
  • Napa
  • San Joaquin
This November, California citizens will vote on the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. If the bill is passed, it will expand opportunities for good time credits and parole to adult prisoners, potentially shortening the length of inmate's sentence. Packaged in the bill is a clause that would essentially end the process of direct file for minors throughout the state.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights. Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Los Angeles County Bans Solitary Confinement of Juveniles

This past Tuesday, May 4, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a measure that improves the quality and integrity of our juvenile criminal justice system by banning the use of solitary confinement in the County’s juvenile detention facilities.The motion was passed with unanimous support. The interim Chief of Probation, Cal Remington, called the new measure not just a change in policy, but a change in culture.

Studies have shown that solitary confinement is not only an ineffective means of punishment, but it also creates a high risk of physical and psychological harm to those so incarcerated. Youth in solitary confinement have higher rates of suicide; some studies indicate that as many as 50 percent of youth who commit suicide while incarcerated were in solitary confinement at the time of death. 

Because juveniles’ brains are still developing, the negative psychological impact of solitary confinement on juveniles is particularly pernicious. Teenage minds, especially those of juveniles in the justice system who have already been subject to unusually high stress, are less equipped to cope with trauma. Solitary confinement has been shown to only exacerbate juvenile mental health issues, creating a vicious cycle of negative conduct.

Los Angeles County has one of the largest juvenile justice systems in the United States. Close to 1200 youth are housed in its detention facilities. The ban on solitary confinement only applies to juveniles in Los Angeles County and is not a change in state law. However, other counties or the state itself could follow LA County’s direction and implement a similar order.

The new rule does not completely ban the use of solitary confinement, but severely restricts its application to very limited circumstances: when a youth poses a serious risk to his or her self and others, he or she can be separated for a short period of time.

According to reports, the new rule is to be implemented by September 2016. Changes, however, are expected to begin in some facilities this month.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Improving the LA County Juvenile Justice System

Last week, representatives from different parts of the Los Angeles County juvenile justice system met to discuss the system’s problems and potential solutions.

Lawyers, former juvenile offenders who had been through the system, advocates, and policy analysts in attendance acknowledged the status quo was not working. The representatives voted to commission a report on improving juvenile defense in Los Angeles County.

The meeting came on the heels of a report issued last month from UC Berkeley that found dysfunction and inequity unique to the Los Angeles County system. For example, appointed private attorneys for juveniles were paid a flat fee — $340 to $360 — for the entire case, rather than by the hour, which meant attorneys often had to work with little resources. Lawyers were required to pay for their own training and no money was allocated to them for private investigators.

The study also found that juveniles represented by privately appointed lawyers were more likely to be transferred to the adult criminal justice system than if they were represented by a public defender. 

Representatives from both sides—private appointed lawyers and public defenders—agreed that this was due to the lack of resources provided to appointed counsel. Public defender offices, for instance, typically have their own private investigators internally.

All parties seemed to agree that such structural problems require structural solutions. It remains to be seen what answers the commissioned report will recommend. The juveniles of Los Angeles County deserve more than the status quo.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California who focuses her practice on juvenile law, criminal defense, and victim’s rights. Attorney Walsh has represented juveniles and adults charged with a range of allegations.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bill to Reduce Juvenile Incarceration Pending

As part of a larger effort to reduce the incarcerated populations in overcrowded prisons, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a bill last November that would make it more difficult to charge juveniles as adults in criminal cases.

The initiative was initially blocked by a judge in Sacramento, but the California Supreme Court said they would hear arguments about the bill’s legality. The bill seeks to repeal part of an initiative from 2000 that permits prosecutors to charge juveniles as young as 14 as adults in cases involving serious offenses.

The bill would also require juvenile court judges to review each case individually and determine based on the specific facts and circumstances of each case whether the juvenile should be tried in juvenile court or adult court.

Perhaps the most important distinction between being tried as an adult and tried as a juvenile is the disparity in sentencing consequences. Juveniles tried as adults can be sentenced as adults, and as such can face much longer or severe sentences.Juveniles sentenced in juvenile court to incarceration must be released at age 23.

While legal and political battles over the bill continue, supporters are working to collect the necessary number of signatures from registered voters to put the bill on the ballot in the November general election.

California’s prisons are overcrowded and the state has taken measures to actively decrease its prison population. This particular bill is one of the more direct efforts to reduce the number of juveniles who are incarcerated in our state. Its future remains to be seen, both in court and potentially on the ballot. 

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California who focuses her practice on juvenile law, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at 714-619-9355.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sexting at School

sexting at school law
Los Angeles students could soon get kicked out of school for sexting. Assemblyman Ed Chau introduced a Sexting bill (Assembly Bill 2536) Feb. 19, 2016 following at least 20 other states with anti-sexting laws. This bill is more specific than existing cyberbullying and child pornography laws in California. Assembly Bill 2536 would give schools the right to expel or suspend students for sending nude or sexually explicit photos and images electronically “with the purpose or effect of humiliating or harassing a pupil.” The law would apply to students who “sext” in that manner when at school or school-sanctioned events or on the way to or from school or school events. The bill addresses “photographs and visual recordings” sent to the targets of the bullying or to other students or school personnel.

It’s specifically geared towards the recent trend of children “sexting”, and gives school districts a way to discipline students who have directed their sexting at classmates or teachers but whose actions don't reach a legal threshold for criminality. This would give school officials the option to expel or suspend students if they are found sexting. The bill will also require schools to include discussions of sexting in sexual health classes to teach about its legal ramifications and potential connection to cyberbullying.

The concern and pushback regarding the bill is that “expelling a child doesn’t solve the problem, because the child can continue the activity from home ” noted Robert Lotter chief executive at My Mobile Watch Dog, a company that allows parents to monitor their child’s technology. Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the American Association of University Women, said she would prefer an approach to sexting that allows the students to address their actions while remaining on campus and receiving counseling.

If Assembly Bill 2536 passes, schools will have to show the child did the act with the specific purpose or effect of humiliating or harassing the other student.

Has your child been involved in sexting and facing criminal charges or school expulsion issues? Contact the Law Office of Katie Walsh for help (714) 619-9355.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court and Juvenile Criminal Justice

The United States Supreme Court continues to recognize the inherent differences between juvenile and adult criminal offenders, acknowledging that the former are less psychologically and socially developed—and thus less legally culpable—than the latter.

At the end of last month, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the matter of Montgomery v. Louisiana, a case with major implications for inmates sentenced as youth to life without the possibility of parole. In a nutshell, the Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery that juveniles who were previously sentenced to life without the possibility of parole should be granted a new sentencing or parole hearing.

In 2012, the Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that it was unconstitutional to automatically sentence a juvenile convicted of homicide to life-without-parole. This decision essentially meant that any individual in prison who had been so sentenced was being held in violation of his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

This legal predicament left many states wondering what to do about inmates who fit this criteria. Should they have to grant them a new sentencing or parole hearing? Was, in other words, the Miller decision retroactive to old cases or did only apply to new cases moving forward?

The Montgomery case answered just this question: juveniles who had previously been automatically sentenced to life-without-parole must be afforded a new sentencing or parole hearing. However, it does not mean that those inmates will be given a new sentence or granted parole, though that may be a possibility. Rather, Montgomery simply requires a new sentencing or parole hearing.

Since the Miller decision in 2012, California has already taken steps to address how it will address juvenile offenders sentenced to life-without-parole. In 2013, the state legislature passed a bill that permits an inmate so sentenced as a juvenile to a parole review after 15 years and release after 20 years.

This bill, titled “California Fair Sentencing for Youth,” required the state to give a new sentencing hearing to any inmate who was 18 years old or younger at the time they were convicted of a crime and sentenced to life-without-parole.

In light of Miller and last month’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the legal landscape of juvenile justice has changed dramatically for those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will eventually rule that all life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles are unconstitutional per se.

Katie Walsh is a defense attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh’s practice focuses on juvenile law, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.

Contact the Law Office of Katie Walsh at 714-619-9355 or online.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Victims of Harassment In Universities Speak Out

Sexual harassment and victimization is not limited to any particular job, field, or profession. It is not always addressed, adjudicated and remedied in a court of law.

Recently, the prominent science journal Nature published a story about the testimony of a female scientific researcher who was harassed by a senior male colleague. Unfortunately, her story was not the first report of this kind: universities and research institutions have internally investigated and adjudicated reports of sexual or gender-based harassment for years now.

Just last week, for instance, an astrophysicist at Caltech was suspended for one year without pay for gender-based harassment. Last year, an astronomer at UC-Berkeley resigned in infamy after the university merely admonished him for committing harassing behavior against colleagues for years. 

Advocates from within and without the academy have voiced support for victims of gender or sexual harassment, particularly in the sciences, a traditionally male-dominant profession.

Faculty, researchers, students, staff and other professionals on university campuses are entitled to protection from sexual or gender discrimination and harassment under Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972.

Complaints filed under Title IX are internally investigated by university officials. If the allegations of the complaint are substantiated, then the university will ordinarily adjudicate the complaint through its own hearings process and decide what if any discipline should be imposed.

Speaking out about one’s experience as a victim—regardless of field or profession—can be daunting and intimidating. If you or someone you know is experiencing or concerned about their victimization, it may help to speak with an advocate.

Katie Walsh is an attorney in Southern California who focuses on victim’s rights and criminal law.

Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh at 714-619-9355 to learn how Attorney Walsh may be able to guide, assist, or represent you.