Articles Posted in Juvenile

search-engine-464188_640.pngThe criminal justice system generates a vast amount of records, including case files, arrest reports, and jail records. An acquittal or dismissal of charges, unfortunately, does not end the impact of a case on a person’s life. A background search could reveal information that harms their chances at employment, even if they have no convictions. Most states allow people to remove information about dismissed cases from the public record, a process known as “expunction” or “expungement.” These processes predate the internet, though. Today, a background check might include a search of public records and a Google search. A recent court case considered whether an expunction requires private entities like news services to remove references to an arrest. The general rule has been and remains that expunction does not place restrictions on private individuals or businesses.

In Texas, expunction is available in many cases that resulted in an acquittal, convictions that have been overturned on appeal, cases in which the defendant received a pardon, cases in which the defendant has successfully completed a program of deferred prosecution and received a dismissal of charges, and cases in which charges were never filed. Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 55.01. Juvenile records are typically sealed at some point after a case concludes, Tex. Fam. Code § 58.003, but expunction procedures are also available in many juvenile cases.

An individual must petition for an expunction in the same court that heard the criminal case, or in the same jurisdiction as the arrest if no charges were filed. Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 55.02. If granted, the expunction order directs court clerks, law enforcement agencies, and other offices to remove and destroy records related to the case. Any use, distribution, or publication of expunged records is prohibited, and the person “may deny the occurrence of the arrest.” Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 55.03.
Continue reading

Ralph_Hedley_The_truant's_log_1899.jpgA bill that would remove criminal penalties for failure to attend school, commonly known as truancy, passed the Texas Senate in mid-April 2015 and now awaits action in the state House of Representatives. The juvenile criminal justice system deals with numerous acts that would not be considered illegal or unlawful for adults, such as truancy or possession of alcohol, and while this may not always seem like the case, the system is intended to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Texas’ system has come under substantial criticism, as well as an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), for its treatment of truancy as a criminal offense. The bill, SB 106, has substantial support, but opponents have claimed that it is not necessary because the resources it seeks to create are already available.

Under current Texas law, most children between the ages of six and 18 are required to attend school unless they are subject to an exemption. Tex. Educ. Code §§ 25.085, 25.086. If a child who is at least 12 years old misses 10 or more days in any six-month period during a single school year, or three or more days within a period of four weeks, the child has committed a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. Tex. Educ. Code § 25.094, Tex Pen. Code § 12.23.

The offense of truancy may be prosecuted outside of the juvenile court system. A judge may order a child found guilty of truancy to attend school and other special programs, perform community service, and attend tutoring sessions. Tex. Code of Crim. P. Art. 45.054. The court may order the child’s parents or guardians to “attend a class for students at risk of dropping out of school.” Id. at Art. 45.054(a)(3). Failure to abide by a court’s orders may result in a contempt finding, which could include jail time. Tex. Educ. Code § 25.094(d), Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 45.050.
Continue reading

The federal government is poised to make a big cut to funding for state and local juvenile justice programs. That is bad news, given that the purpose of these programs is to help states comply with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. This Act was the first major federal legislation to shape state policy on juvenile justice. Its goals were to remove juveniles from adult facilities and to end the practice of sending both criminal and noncriminal minors to prison-like facilities for rehabilitation. Before the Act was enacted, many juvenile courts did not think twice of throwing minors into adult prisons for long periods of time without tailoring the sentence to the juvenile crime or giving the minor due process. That still happens far too often in Texas and elsewhere, and now it is about to get worse.

Federal aid for juvenile justice programs already had sunk by more than 50% to its lowest level in over a decade. The Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents state advisory committees in Washington, D.C., asked Congress to appropriate $80 million for “formula grants” to help states comply with mandates, $65 million for a Title V Delinquency Prevention Program, and $30 million for juvenile accountability block grants. The House appropriations committee responded by cutting the programs to $33 million, $65 million, and to nothing respectively. The elimination of juvenile accountability block grants could be especially damaging, since they are used by states and local governments to give juvenile justice officials a range of options for holding minors accountable that take into account their age and ability.

The more government-friendly Senate intends to provide a budget for these programs that is close to $300 million. But by the time the House and Senate agree on a budget (if they ever agree — or, if more typically, they reach a stalemate while the programs twist in the wind), the number is likely to be lower than the current $263 million budget.

Recently, a judge was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for accepting a $1 million kickback from a builder of for-profit juvenile prisons. Although the judge, Mark Ciavarella, presided in Luverne County, Pennsylvania, this story is chilling for criminal defense attorneys across the country who represent juvenile crime suspects.

In return for the kickback, Judge Ciavarella reportedly made a habit of sentencing youths to time in the prisons that were being built. Children as young as 10 years old were sentenced, for “outrageous” crimes such as stealing a jar of nutmeg or posting a web page containing spoofs of an assistant principal. In one especially sad case, a 17-year old with no prior history of conviction was sentenced to several months in a private prison and wilderness camp for possessing drug paraphernalia. He never recovered from the experience and took his life at the age of 23.

If this is true (Judge Ciavarella denies it), it represents the gross abuse of a trusted position — in fact, this guy sounds like a character in a Dickens novel. This blog has already discussed the vulnerable position of juvenile defendants. Here in Texas, juveniles’ constitutional rights are repeatedly overlooked. Though juvenile defendants are supposed to receive notice of the charges they are facing, they frequently do not. They also have a Sixth Amendment right to competent representation, but too often, the kindest word you can use to describe it is “inadequate.” Too often, teenagers are treated like young adults — “Certified” as Adults, and given adult sentences and put in adult prisons under the misguided belief that they would never “learn their lesson” in a juvenile detention center. Things have gotten a bit better, with the state focusing a tiny bit more on rehabilitation than “lock ’em up” policies, but much of the neglect still needs to be addressed.