Wednesday, December 29, 2021

What Is a Juvenile?

While many constitutional rights apply equally to minors and adults, like free speech and the right to have legal representation, other laws differ depending on the age of the person committing the criminal offense. How old is a juvenile? While this definition varies among states, California law considers juvenile offenders to be between the ages of 12 and 18.

What Is Juvenile Law?

Juvenile law is a unique legal specialty dealing with crimes committed by minors, which tend to have different definitions and less severe consequences than offenses committed by adults. For example, “status offenses” like truancy and curfew violations only count as criminal acts when minors commit them.

In general, the legal system treats juveniles somewhat more gently and focuses on rehabilitation instead of punishment. For instance, a judge may order an underaged offender to complete community service or pay a small fine instead of serving a prison sentence alongside adults. For more serious crimes, minors may spend time in a juvenile correction facility, where they will continue receiving an education and have access to counseling services that support their social and emotional development.

While charging a minor as an adult is rare, it can happen in severe cases such as rape and murder. Ultimately, the prosecutor is responsible for deciding whether to pursue this course.

What Is Juvenile Court?

Juvenile court has some similarities to an adult proceeding, but it is less formal overall and typically does not involve a jury trial. Additionally, the judge doesn’t rule a minor guilty or innocent. Rather, if they find a juvenile committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, they will sustain the district attorney’s petition. With relatively slight offenses like shoplifting, the judge may also agree to dismiss the charges after a period of good behavior or completion of informal probation.

Originally, juveniles who committed crimes did not have access to legal representation, limiting options and oversight for cases that entered America’s juvenile justice system. In 1967, the Supreme Court case in re Gault changed juvenile court governance by ruling that the 14th Amendment’s due process clause applied equally to minors and adults.

As our knowledge of behavioral science continues evolving, so does the juvenile justice system. For instance, we now know that the human brain is not fully developed around age 25, which means juveniles tend to have a diminished capacity for making rational decisions compared to adults. This research has been instrumental in changing how the criminal justice system handles crimes committed by minors and required the adoption of new rules and standards for law enforcement interrogation of underaged offenders, among other things.

Protect Your Child With Experienced Legal Representation

While juvenile law tends to be less punitive, having a criminal offense on record, even as a minor, can cause repercussions into adulthood. However, California allows many underaged offenders to seal these records once they turn 18, essentially erasing the crimes as if they never happened.

If your child has committed a juvenile offense, contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh to arrange a complimentary consultation. As a former district attorney and prosecutor, Katie Walsh has handled thousands of juvenile cases and is also an expert in school disciplinary cases. Your family deserves reliable representation when your child’s future is on the line.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Juvenile Crime Statistics

Young people who commit illegal offenses before reaching legal adulthood are at risk of entering the world’s largest prison system, losing their freedom and ending up burdened with a criminal record that can threaten their educational and employment opportunities. In the U.S., thousands of people under the age of 18 get arrested in an average year.

A juvenile court may order a minor convicted of committing an underage offense to perform community service, pay a fine, remain in home confinement or even incarcerate them in a juvenile correction facility. In extreme circumstances like murder or rape, a judge may decide to transfer the case outside the juvenile justice system and treat the child as an adult. Juvenile court cases can be tricky to navigate, which is why you need the knowledge and guidance an experienced attorney can provide.

Has Juvenile Crime Increased or Decreased?

According to a report published by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, courts with juvenile jurisdiction handled an estimated 722,600 cases in 2019. The makeup of these was as follows.
  • Person offenses, such as assault: 33%
  • Property offenses, such as burglary and vandalism: 30%
  • Public order offenses, such as disorderly conduct: 24%
  • Drug offenses, such as buying or selling illegal substances: 13%
While the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice notes that juvenile arrests in California have been on the decline, those who get arrested are facing harsher punishment. Their research points to a need to investigate and reform the systemic factors leading to an increase in arrests resulting in referral, disposition and detention.

Juvenile Crime Risk Factors

Some juvenile crimes, like truancy or underage drinking, often stem from impulsive decision-making. Research has shown that the rational part of the human brain is not fully developed until about age 25, which is why adolescents might act without thinking through the long-term consequences of their decisions.

If your child has friends who engage in delinquent or illegal behavior, they may feel pressured to fit in by going along with the crowd. Or, they may act out in response to bullying and rejection because they have had fewer opportunities to participate in healthy, beneficial social interactions.

Other factors that may put a young person at higher risk of committing a juvenile crime include:
  • School suspensions and expulsions
  • Academic challenges, including below-average achievement
  • A history of emotional and behavioral issues
  • Mental health disorders, including trauma and depression
  • Substance abuse

Providing Peace of Mind for You and Your Loved Ones

Regardless of the circumstances, your family does not deserve to face the long-lasting ramifications that can accompany juvenile crime in California. If your child is in legal trouble, an experienced Orange County juvenile defense attorney can take the case and help ensure their future stays promising.

As a district attorney and juvenile defense specialist, Katie Walsh has successfully represented some of the most challenging cases. Today, she uses her expertise on the ins and outs of the juvenile court system to tailor legal strategies for her clients’ best interest. You do not have to face the challenges associated with juvenile crime alone. Contact our office today to schedule your complimentary consultation.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Are Juvenile Records Sealed When You Turn 18?

If you have a juvenile record in California, you should know that it is open to the public. This documentation includes all the information about criminal activity you were allegedly involved with before you turned 18, including arrest and probation reports and court findings and rulings.

Having a juvenile record can make it exponentially more challenging for young adults to successfully find meaningful employment, apply for a bank loan, get a driver’s license, rent an apartment or get accepted into school. Fortunately, having a case sealed makes it as if it never happened. Here’s what you need to know about the process of sealing juvenile records in California.

What Happens to Your Record Once You Turn 18?

Many people assume that a juvenile record immediately turns into a non-issue once they become legal adults. However, that’s not the case in California, where the court does not automatically seal juvenile records. That means your record will remain available for anyone to access unless you proactively seek out a judicial order to have it sealed.

There are multiple advantages to sealing your juvenile record, most notably that doing so will give you a fresh start – from that point on, no one will know about it. If anyone asks you if you’ve been arrested or if you have a criminal record, you can truthfully and confidently answer “no.”

Eligibility Requirements

Not everyone is eligible to petition to have their juvenile records sealed – there are some notable exceptions. For instance, some violent crimes such as murder, assault, robbery and carjacking are typically unsealable, depending on your age at the time of the offense.

If you apply for a job with a law enforcement agency, your record might be also visible to them when they run a background check on you.

You are eligible to have your juvenile records sealed if you are older than 18, or if at least five years have passed since your most recent arrest or discharge from probation. You must also be able to prove to the court that you have been rehabilitated, and there must not be any pending litigation resulting from any of the crimes on your juvenile record. Additionally, you can’t have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony for crimes involving “moral turpitude,” such as voluntary manslaughter or rape.

Protect Your Future

While the process of applying to have a juvenile record sealed can help empower young adults by giving them new insights into the justice system, it’s best to have reliable legal representation to ensure a former juvenile offender can enter adulthood with a clean slate. As a former prosecutor, Katie Walsh has handled thousands of juvenile cases, making her one of the most experienced attorneys in these matters.

When the Law Offices of Katie Walsh represents your legal defense, we will help you file a record-sealing petition. Together, you and your attorney will attend the court hearing that determines the petition outcome. Once a judge decides to seal a juvenile record, all related information will get destroyed after five years, allowing you to make a fresh start with your adult life. Contact us today for your free consultation.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Suspension and Expulsion During COVID-19

The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 brought seismic changes that closed businesses and schools across the country. Without the ability to teach in person, educators scrambled to find creative ways to conduct classes online. The switch to online learning caused unique stresses among teachers, students and families.

Educators and policymakers have predominantly focused their efforts on finding solutions for providing remote instruction, helping students who lack access to the technology necessary to learn online, and all the other essential community services schools typically provide. Unfortunately, any meaningful discussion about COVID-19’s effects on school discipline has largely fallen by the wayside.

School Discipline in the COVID-19 Era

Under typical circumstances, most infractions that constitute grounds for expulsion involve behavior that takes place on school property – such as using tobacco products on campus or bringing a weapon to class. However, despite the switch to a virtual environment, where on-campus rule violations are impossible, some schools and school districts still require students to serve suspensions and expulsions.

For example, one fourth-grader in Louisiana faced expulsion after his teacher noticed a BB gun in his room during online class. The school later amended the expulsion to a six-day suspension after the family’s attorney successfully argued that events taking place in a private home are different from those that happen on campus, and that school policies needed an update to reflect that.

Are We Overdue to Reform School Disciplinary Measures?

Controversy about school discipline was prevalent even before the pandemic forced students, teachers and parents to adapt to distance learning. For example, a 2020 report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Learning Policy Institute found that K-12 students from coast to coast missed out on a total of 11 million instructional days in a single academic year due to out-of-school suspension.

The same report highlighted alarming racial disparities in school suspension data, pointing to the fact that students of color miss significantly more instructional days due to suspensions than their white classmates. This phenomenon occurs nationwide, suggesting the need for reform. Citing the adverse effects of school push-outs on students, a coalition of organizations wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom in April 2020 to request that he issue a moratorium on school expulsions during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the need to reevaluate a host of societal issues, from our health care system to our work/life balance. Perhaps the additional attention paid to school discipline during virtual learning will lead officials to rethink their outdated suspension and expulsion policies, with a specific focus on how these disciplinary methods impact some of the most vulnerable students.

What to Do If Your Student Faces Expulsion

In California, your student may be subject to expulsion for making an impulsive adolescent decision. At the Law Offices of Katie Walsh, we help families avoid disciplinary actions that could have far-reaching repercussions on their child’s future. As a former prosecutor, Katie Walsh has handled thousands of juvenile cases. If you need the expertise of a knowledgeable Southern California school expulsion attorney, contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Juvenile Detention Center | What Is It Like in California?

Juvenile hall is a form of short-term detention for young people who have been arrested for various delinquent acts. These secure facilities house underage offenders while they await legal action on their case or placement in a long-term counseling or rehabilitation program. If your child has allegedly broken the law and is facing the consequences, navigating the fast-moving court process can be stressful. Here’s what you need to know about juvenile hall in Orange County.

What Is a Juvenile Detention Center?

While you may hear the phrases “juvenile hall” and “juvenile detention” used interchangeably, there’s a subtle difference between the two. Juvenile hall is a more temporary custody for a young person waiting for a court to handle their case. In contrast, a juvenile detention center is a longer-term placement for young people whose alleged offenses are more significant, leading a judge to order confinement.

Youth in juvenile detention have the constitutional right to:
  • Due process
  • Be free from cruel and unusual punishment
  • Equal protection
  • Free speech
  • Free exercise of religion
  • Counsel

What Happens in Juvenile Detention?

In general, most juvenile detention centers offer various programs and evidence-based services to support residents’ physical, emotional and social development. They have dormitories where the residents sleep, along with dining and recreational areas. Detained youth have opportunities to go outdoors, engage in physical exercise, participate in a range of recreational activities and practice their religion.

Facilities also have on-site medical and mental health facilities and classrooms where school-aged youth can continue to receive an education. Juvenile detention center staff are responsible for ensuring juveniles adhere to consistent daily routines and attend counseling as necessary to help with issues such as drug use or anger management.

Understanding California’s Juvenile Court System

In general, the law treats underage offenders differently from adults. For example, “status offenses” like truancy and curfew violations only constitute criminal acts when committed by minors aged 12 to 18. Juvenile court is where all cases of felonies, misdemeanors and status offenses allegedly committed by minors get heard. Crucially, most California prosecutors try to avoid pressing criminal charges, and instead try to direct young offenders to beneficial community programming.

In the California juvenile court system, the judge does not rule a minor guilty or innocent. Instead, if a judge finds the minor committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, they will sustain the petition filed by the district attorney.

There are several different dispositions, or sentences, available in juvenile court. Informal probation is the mildest of these. The minor does not need to admit any allegations of wrongdoing, and their charges get dismissed when they successfully complete their program. At the other end of the spectrum is commitment to California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, which provides treatment and services to youthful offenders up to the age of 25 with more extensive criminal backgrounds.

Your Experienced Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney

As a former district attorney, Katie Walsh now uses her extensive legal expertise to provide families with the best possible results in every case. If your child is facing charges, you should have a knowledgeable attorney by your side to defend their case and walk you through the ins and outs of every stage of the process. Don’t entrust your family’s future to an attorney who lacks juvenile court experience. For your complimentary consultation, contact us today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

California Juvenile Felony Sentencing

California juvenile felonies

Concerned that the minds of young people are not yet fully developed, many in the juvenile justice system are advocating for laws that would emphasize reform rather than punishment. California juvenile felony sentencing is one of the areas that youth advocates are focusing on, particularly in terms of the potential for developing career criminals.

Three Strikes

In April 2021, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón announced that he was backing pending legislation that would prevent “strikes” from counting toward sentencing enhancement for juveniles. California’s “three strikes” law is currently designed such that it can lead to prison sentences of life for repeat serious offenders, including youthful offenders.

State law treats these “strikes” for juveniles aged 16 and over the same as for adults. In such cases, a second strike would double the underlying sentence and a third felony can result in a life sentence for a youth. Gascón emphasized that ““The juvenile system is based on rehabilitation, not on punishment.” He also pointed out that juvenile offenders do not have the same constitutional protection as adults, including the right to a jury trial.

Still Need Guidance

In supporting the legislation, clinical psychologist Rahn Minagawa stated that young people, particularly those age 16 and 17, “are not fully developed adults.” They are much more likely to be driven by impulse or by peers in their behavior. To toughen their punishment for things they did as a juvenile is “just inherently unfair,” he notes.

State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) also pointed out that “treating 18- and 19-year-olds as adults makes no … sense in the criminal context.” Skinner introduced Senate Bill 889 in 2020, proposing that the reach of the state’s juvenile justice system be expanded to treat individuals under the age of 21 as minors. Skinner stated that the bill was proposed in “recognition that people under 21 still need guidance.” She pointed out that other laws, including restrictions on purchasing alcohol and tobacco, require an individual to be 21 at the “adult or responsible age.”

Brian Richart, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California, said that “the science says (those) between 18 and 24 have less than fully developed prefrontal cortexes. Their decision making is inhibited. They act impulsively and we know this, yet we treat them as if they are fully developed.”

California Juvenile Felonies

In 2018, 17,200 minors under the age of 17 were arrested for felonies in California. More than half of those were Black and 36% were Latino. In addition, approximately 14,400 individuals aged 18 and 19 were arrested on felony charges. Although raising the age of those tried in juvenile courts could potentially send thousands of new inmates to fill juvenile facilities, these young people would probably be held much longer if sent to adult facilities.

Senate Bill 823

Under Senate Bill 823, the state legislature closed the Division of Juvenile Justice within the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, effective July 1, 2021, and transferred the responsibility for youth who were wards of the court to county governments. The bill offers the opportunity for local probation departments to create a rehabilitation program, along with other interventions, that meets the needs of youth and young adults who would have been housed at regional centers operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Youth will remain closer to their families and communities while participating in a secure rehabilitation program.

The bill also extends the age of local juvenile court jurisdiction to 23 or 25 and repealed provisions that allowed juveniles to be detained in adult facilities. A new statewide oversight body has also been created, the Office of Youth and Community Restoration within the California Health and Human Services Agency. The mission of this oversight body is to “promote trauma responsive, culturally informed services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.”

The Juvenile Assessment and Intervention System (JAIS) has determined the needs of the youth committed to the Division of Juvenile Justice between 2015 and 2019, including the facts that:

  • 86% had behavioral health needs including, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and impulse control.
  • 63% had needs related to building and maintaining pro-social relationships, meaning that their peer group was negative, delinquent, and/or abusive.
  • 59% had chronic parental or family problems.
  • 48% had substance use issues that contributed to the youth’s legal difficulties.
  • Only 17% of youth at DJJ had significant criminal orientation, described as criminal behavior being an acceptable and a common part of the youth’s life.

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, June 17, 2021

Senate Bill 81: California Sentencing Enhancements

sentencing enhancements

When a juvenile is convicted of a crime in California, even minimum sentences can often be increased by sentencing enhancements. A recent bill introduced by a state senator would change that to some degree. Senate Bill 81 will affect California sentencing enhancements for juveniles and adults alike.

Tough on Crime Era

Many of the sentencing enhancements that have the potential to double an individual’s sentence came out of the “tough on crime” era of the 80s and 90s. Statutes such as the three strike law were enacted that could pose severe penalties on anyone who committed even a relatively minor crime. These enhancements have increasingly come under scrutiny as the costs of mass incarceration, both social and financial, are being more closely examined.

A study of these enhancements that were imposed from 2005 to 2017 found that they accounted for about one of every four years that were served in a jail or prison. The enhancements more than doubled the base term in many cases. About half were triggered by prior convictions. The other half was due to an individual’s conduct during the offense.

150 Separate Sentence Enhancements

In 2021, 40 years after the beginning of the tough on crime era, California’s penal code now has more than 150 separate sentence enhancements. These range from add-ons for possible gang association, which can affect many juveniles, to having a prior conviction or being on probation.

These added terms are routinely applied in almost every criminal case. Of those in state prison now, 80% are serving a longer sentence because of one or more of these enhancements. Over a fourth are serving sentences with at least three enhancements.

Committee on Revision of the Penal Code

Several key people testified to California’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code that these added sentences need to be reduced or eliminated. In September 2020, former Governor Jerry Brown argued that it was time for California to get rid of all of them. Alternatively, he stated, state law should be reformed to give judges stronger guidance on when and how to apply them appropriately.

Prosecutors, including Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, testified as well. They stated that the use of sentence enhancements is out of control in the state. They added that, in many trials, the application of these extended prison terms gets more attention, by the defense and the prosecution, than the crime itself. During the committee meetings, the members heard additional testimony and studied research that showed that extended prison sentences do not improve public safety.

Senate Bill 81

Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley is a member of the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code, which was established by Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature. Senate Bill 81, introduced by Senator Skinner, reflects one of the 10 recommendations made by the committee, establishing judicial guidance on the use of sentencing. In May 2021, the bill was approved by the California Senate.

The bill will provide clarity on California sentencing enhancements by giving guidance to judges on how to apply the enhancements in the cases where there is clear and convincing evidence that, should they not impose the additional sentence, that it would endanger the public. SB 81 will guide judges in factoring in the following circumstances under which an enhancement should not be applied:

  • Application of the enhancement would result in a disparate racial impact.
  • Multiple enhancements are alleged in a single case. In this instance, all enhancements beyond a single enhancement shall be dismissed.
  • The application of an enhancement could result in a sentence of over 20 years. In this instance, the enhancement shall be dismissed.
  • The current offense is connected to mental illness.
  • The current offense is connected to prior victimization or childhood trauma.
  • The current offense is not a violent felony as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5.
  • The enhancement is based on a prior conviction that is over five years old.
  • Though a firearm was used in the current offense, it was inoperable or unloaded.
  • The defendant was a juvenile when they committed the current offense or prior offenses.

Now that it has passed the Senate, Senate Bill 81 will go to the state Assembly.

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, May 20, 2021

California PROMYSE Act Passes Senate Public Safety Committee | SB 493

PROMYSE Act - SB 493

A critical piece of legislation that should drastically improve accountability of a state grant targeted toward juvenile justice crime prevention has won broad support in its first legislative committee. Senate Bill 493, the PROMYSE Act, has passed the Senate Public Safety Committee and now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review and approval. 


PROMYSE is the Promoting Youth Success and Empowerment Act. The bill was authored by Senator Steven Bradford and supported by Senators Nancy Skinner, Scott Wiener, and Sydney Kamlager as well as a Co-Sponsor Coalition made up of advocates, service providers, and youth justice experts. 

One main goal of the PROMYSE Act is to dramatically improve spending and accountability of an annual grant for the state of California called the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA). The bill will also reinvest $100M+ in youth services in the state that are provided by schools, community-based organizations, and public health agencies.

Co-Sponsor Coalition

A group of youth advocates, justice experts, and service providers have co-sponsored SB 493, supporting Senator’s Bradford’s efforts. Among them is the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ). There have also been a number of individuals supporting the bill, especially those who have been directly impacted by the juvenile justice system in the state of California. Together they represent a network of constituents promoting the safety and wellness of diverse communities across the state.

The expertise of the coalition has been informed by direct experience with JJCPA decision-making as well as participation in programs funded by JJCPA. In addition, the group has conducted research that has led to alarming findings in regard to poor JJCPA administration. They have found unspent funds accruing, funds being misused, and a failure to comply with mandated processes.

Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act

The JJCPA was enacted in 2000 to support youth on a local level, in an effort to limit their involvement in the juvenile justice system. However, county spending has fallen short of the bill’s original goals for the past 20 years. Even though youth arrests have declined by over 80 percent, along with major drops in probation referrals, most counties spend the majority of their JJCPA funds on probation staffing. Little or none is invested in community-based organizations.

Some counties in the state have used JJCPA funds for probation programs that have resulted in what is known as net-widening. This can have a negative impact on youth participants and their families. In addition, the agencies and organizations providing services for youth in marginalized communities across the state have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PROMSYE Act bill will ensure stable funding for critical services operated by public health agencies, schools, and community-based organizations as they support at-promise and justice-involved youth.

Youth Development and Crime Prevention

Senator Bradford stated that, “Reforming JJCPA responds to rising calls for racial justice and addresses economic challenges heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill will provide for greater accountability, effectiveness, and equity in supporting our youth. The PROMYSE Act will ensure state funds are invested in youth development and crime prevention.” 

The Senators and the co-sponsors of SB 493 recognize that education, health, and community-based services are essential in preventing young people’s exposure to the justice system. The bill will be a critical step toward establishing a stronger foundation for the future of youth in California. As a result of the PROMSYE Act, community-based programs centered on positive youth development will be better able to serve youth and fulfill the original vision for JJCPA.

SB 493 Impact

When enacted, the legislation will:

  • Ensure equal community representation in the decision making process by requiring each county’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, which decides how JJCPA funds are spent, to designate co-chairs and allocate 50 percent of its seats to community members.
  • Reinvest JJCPA dollars into communities by requiring counties to distribute at least 95 percent of allotted JJCPA funds to community-based organizations and/or public agencies that are non-law enforcement agencies.
  • Strengthen county reporting and evaluation processes by the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) by including critical evidence regarding program effectiveness and youth served.

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, April 22, 2021

Public Opinion Favors Rehabilitation for Juvenile Offenders

rehabilitation for juvenile offenders

Young people are better served when they receive treatment for the issues that led to their criminal acts than when they are simply incarcerated for their offenses. This opinion has been reinforced by research and is trending in approaches seen throughout the US. Recent surveys have shown that public opinion favors rehabilitation for juvenile offenders.

Agreement Across All Lines

A 2017 poll showed that there is agreement across racial and political lines that the juvenile justice system should place more emphasis on rehabilitating juvenile offenders and place far less emphasis on punishment and prison. The majority of survey participants said that these youth deserve a second chance and that society in general is also better off when the teens are helped rather than incarcerated.

The study was sponsored by the Youth First Initiative. Liz Ryan, CEO of the initiative, said that “the poll shows policymakers that they should be doing this. Young people should be given opportunities, not punishment. You can hold people accountable without incarceration.”

Education and Preventive Measures

More than three-fourths of the poll’s participants said they favored education and preventive measures over an approach of punishment. 90% of the respondents said that families should be involved in designing treatment and rehabilitation plans for youths charged with crimes, a slight increase over the previous year’s survey results.

In addition, 94% said that the most important job of the juvenile justice system is to make sure youth get their lives back on track and learn how to refrain from a continued life of crime. Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, commenting about those results, said, “I think the general public understands that locking up kids leads to more crime, not less. If you treat people with dignity and provide services you can actually help reduce crime.”

Rehabilitation Works

The survey results show that people in the US support youth criminal justice reform, particularly as they believe that rehabilitation works. They also believe that young people who have committed a delinquent act are capable of positive change. The survey respondents also say that rehabilitation can save taxpayer dollars over incarceration.

Among the poll respondents, 79% agreed with the statement that “When it comes to youth who have committed delinquent acts, the best thing for society is to rehabilitate them so they can become productive members of society.” Also, 78% agreed that “The youth justice system should provide youth with more opportunity to better themselves.”

Recidivism Rates

The rate of recidivism, or a return to jail for another crime after serving one sentence, is high among juveniles who are incarcerated. The numbers show that:

  • 66% of juveniles who have been arrested will become repeat offenders within 24 months. In fact, 49% of young people become repeat offenders within the first year.
  • The recidivism rates among males is 70% of offenders in the 24 months after being first arrested.
  • The recidivism rates among females is 43% of offenders in the 24 months after being first arrested.
  • 44% of repeat juvenile offenders are re-arrested for a felony.

Rehabilitation Efforts

Additional research studies have shown that there is a high rate of mental health problems among juvenile offenders, with one in five estimated to suffer from severe functional impairment as a result. There has also been a reported association between mental health problems and mortality in incarcerated juveniles, including an elevated suicide rate for male youth. These mental health problems must be a target in interventions for juvenile offenders as there is a clear need for effective interventions which address both the clinical and the criminal behavior needs of these individuals.

Relationships with their family and with their peers have also been recognized as key factors in the criminal behavior profile of juvenile offenders. Rehabilitation for these youth should involve a family-focused intervention focused on those characteristics related to anti-social behavior, including their family relationships and their associations with their peers. Evidence suggests that these are beneficial rehabilitation approaches.

As opposed to incarceration, behavior therapy has been associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood that the juvenile will re-offend. When the youth participate in these therapy sessions, they are significantly less likely to become involved in serious and violent offending.

Another aspect of rehabilitation includes education and skills-based training. An important aspect of successful rehabilitation, an improvement has been shown in areas including self-belief and protection against future criminal activities when youth are engaged in a positive way in meaningful activities that will improve their vocational and intellectual skills.

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, March 25, 2021

Groundbreaking Settlements Seek to Protect Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

groundbreaking settlements

Over two years ago, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) began an investigation into the conditions of confinement at two juvenile halls. Based on the results of that investigation, a settlement has been reached that will improve the conditions and education services in Los Angeles County's juvenile halls. The groundbreaking settlements seek to protect youth in the juvenile justice system in the county.

Extensive Investigation into Confinement Conditions

The investigation into the conditions of confinement began in October 2018. DOJ launched the investigation to determine whether the conditions for youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Central Juvenile Hall complied with state and federal laws. The Attorney General’s Office interviewed over 80 witnesses, conducted a number of site visits, and reviewed thousands of pages of documentation.

Confirming the allegations, DOJ found that the county did not provide sufficient services and, in fact, endangered youth safety. The investigation focused on the policies and incidents of use-of force, room and solitary confinement practices, access to grievance procedures, staff training, as well as rehabilitative programming, recreation, education, religious services, and mental and medical healthcare.

They found, among other issues, that the juvenile halls relied on inappropriate, excessive physical and chemical use of force. In an online news conference, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the investigation focused, in particular on the unnecessary use of pepper spray and on unreasonable periods of cell confinement that kept youths from receiving adequate educational services and medical care.

Groundbreaking Settlements

The settlements, announced in January 2021, were reached between Attorney General Becerra, Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles County of Education. As a result of the DOJ investigation, the settlements focus on improving the conditions and education services in the county’s juvenile halls.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education and the County of Los Angeles, including its Probation Department, Department of Mental Health, and Department of Health Services have agreed on a wide range of corrective actions, to be overseen by an independent monitor and subject matter experts. These corrective actions are aimed at securing positive outcomes for youth involved in the justice system and at ensuring systemic improvements to the county’s juvenile halls.

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, reflecting on the groundbreaking settlements, said, “We at the Los Angeles County Office of Education are passionate about our work and firm in our belief in the power of education to transform the lives of at-promise students in our juvenile hall schools. For the past year, we have cooperated closely with DOJ officials. The findings of their investigation demand that we all do better for the young people in our care. We welcome the opportunity to strengthen systems of collaboration and accountability so we can more effectively deliver the high-quality services our youth deserve."

A Four-Year Plan for Corrective Action

The most significant outcomes of the DOJ’s investigation and the resulting settlements are extensive four-year plans to protect youth in the juvenile justice system. These plans include corrective actions in a number of important areas, including:

  • Limiting the use of force and requiring de-escalation as well as outside oversight and review of incidents.
  • Enhancing holistic efforts to support youth through trauma-informed and positive behavior approaches.
  • Improving confinement safeguards and practices to ensure youth are not unlawfully confined to their rooms.
  • Providing necessities of basic living needs, including bedding, hygiene items, and appropriate access to the bathroom.
  • Ensuring that youths are housed in a homelike environment.
  • Ensuring that youth have timely and appropriate mental health and medical care.
  • Providing appropriate time for education and improving the process for youth who are transitioning back to school in the community.
  • Providing a trustworthy and secure method for youth in the juvenile justice system to have their problems properly addressed.
  • Facilitating the collection of data and the analysis necessary to demonstrate compliance with the settlements, allowing for adequate ongoing internal review.
  • Requiring sufficient training for staff and appropriate staffing for the juvenile halls to be able to comply with the settlements.

Regarding the investigation and the resulting groundbreaking settlements, Attorney General Becerra said, “One of our core duties as a society is to lay the foundation for our children to build a better future. That has to be at the center of what we do as government when youth are entrusted to our care.” Becerra added, “I applaud the county for working with us to correct the wrongs uncovered by our investigation and committing to help these youth get the resources they need.”

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.

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.