What We Missed

Apologies for the lack of recent posting; I’ve been off the grid this week.  If you ever find yourself missing the blog, however, please remember to check out the Juvenile Justice Blog Facebook page, as there are frequent links there to interesting articles, commentary, and other news as well as @juvjusticeblog on Twitter.


Here are several noteworthy items from the past few days:

*Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform 2009-2011 Edition:  Published by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) in July 2012 with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, the document includes a wide array of youth justice reforms from across the country: significant new laws, administrative rule and practice changes, positive court decisions, and promising commissions and studies. Many of the reforms are due to the hard work of NJJN members.

*A Reprieve for Juvenile Lifers?  This article from the Crime Report begins as follows:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope.

In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing.

But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.

Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling—and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

Osler, who specializes in sentencing law, added: “But with these 2,000 cases, it’s going to be pretty messy with a lot of different outcomes.”

“This is very clean at the wholesale level and very messy at the retail level,” said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of  St.Thomas Law School, in Saint Paul, MN. “It’s very clear from 10,000 feet that children are different.”

*Interview with Dr. Thomas Grisso by International Juvenile Justice Observatory:

In this interview, the Director of the Psychology Department and the Law-Psychiatry Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School talks about the program he manages in the USA providing technical assistance to juvenile justice systems. Dr. Grisso underlines that there is very little research evidence that screening and assessment lead to successful and effective treatment. He also presents his new area of study aims at finding ways to improve mental health screening in juvenile justice for young people with diverse cultural backgrounds.

*Missouri’s Unique Approach to Rehabilitating Teens in the Juvenile Justice System. This article from Reclaiming Futures begins as follows:

Missouri is changing the way it approaches rehabilitating teens in its juvenile justice system, and it’s working. With a focus on therapy and education rather than punishment, the state closed its training schools and large facilities with minimal schooling in the early 1980s. It also did away with prison-issued uniforms and isolation cells. Now in Missouri, youth who commit crimes usually spend up to 12 months in residential centers with various levels of security, depending on the severity of the crime. Lesser crimes result in teens living in group homes or visiting day treatment centers. Every facility offers the same educational and treatment opportunity, regardless of the crimes committed.

*NJ Supreme Court radically changes jury instructions to emphasize the risk of mistaken ID.  This article from The Star Ledger begins as follows:

Last year, the state Supreme Court threw attorneys and cops into a tizzy when it said New Jersey’s standards for eyewitness testimony are unreliable when determining guilt or innocence.

Now the high court is implementing sweeping changes in how police gather statements from those who witness crimes, and how prosecutors present it all to jurors.

After Labor Day, judges will be required to give jurors plenty of precautions before they consider the testimony they heard during trials.

For example, jurors will be told: “Human memory is not foolproof. Research has revealed that human memory is not like a video recording that a witness need only replay to remember what happened. Memory is far more complex … Eyewitness identification must be scrutinized carefully.”

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said the new instructions to jurors will discourage actions that could help put the wrong person behind bars.

“These charges will deter practices that can lead to misidentification,” Rabner told The Star-Ledger.

*Unlikely Academic Overcame Obstacles, Now Helping Struggling Students.  This article from the New Haven Independent begins as follows:

After her brother was killed by gunfire, and with no parents to turn to for help, Patricia Melton beat the odds and became a first-generation college graduate with a degree from Yale. Now she’s returning to New Haven to help kids not just get to college, but stick it out, too, the way she did.

Melton, who’s 52, takes over on Aug. 15 as the new executive director of New Haven Promise, a college scholarship program funded by Yale and the Community Foundation For Greater New Haven. The program, announced in November 2010, offers up to a free ride at in-state colleges and universities to city kids who attend New Haven Public Schools, perform community service, keep up a B average in school and stay out of trouble.

*States Reconsider Juvenile Life Sentences.  This article from Stateline begins as follows:

Robert Holbrook is serving a life-without-parole sentence in Pennsylvania for participating in a robbery that escalated into murder on his 16th birthday. He agreed to serve as a lookout for what he thought would be a simple drug deal, his sister Anita Colón explained at a Pennsylvania Senate judiciary committee hearing earlier this month.

Instead, she said he found himself in the middle of a robbery-turned-murder and was too scared of the drug dealer and the four adults who ordered him to stay to run away. Holbrook pled guilty to murder to avoid the death penalty, and a judge convicted him of first-degree murder for aiding and abetting in the crime.

In her testimony at the recent hearing evaluating what impact the Miller v. Alabama U.S. Supreme Court decision (June 25) might have on similar cases, Colón recalled  that the judge sentencing her brother 22 years ago said although he had been the least culpable of the offenders, the law did not permit discretion. He had no other option but to impose the mandatory sentence for first- and second-degree murder in Pennsylvania — life without the possibility of parole.

*Innocence Lost: Girls, Gangs, and Prostitution.   This article by the Crime Report begins as follows:

Last month, in a widely reported case, a San Francisco couple was accused of murdering a man who they believed was pimping their 17-year-old daughter.

Calvin Sneed, a 22-year-old Crips gang member, was shot June 4 as he was reportedly on his way to a rendezvous with the girl, whose name has been withheld. The couple, Barry Gilton, 38, and Lupe Mercado, 37, have pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and the incident sparked a furious local debate over so-called “vigilante justice.”

While the details of the case are still in dispute, the alleged involvement of the girl, a frequent runaway, with one of California’s most vicious gangs underscores what authorities and child advocates say is the increased exploitation of young women by U.S. organized crime groups.

In some ways, according to experts, the trend reflects the success of law enforcement in cracking down on gang-related narcotics and gun activities.

Also, there are only a few days left for the Children, Parents, and the Law casebook give-a-way, so leave a comment now to be entered!

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About Tamar Birckhead

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