Articles Posted in Juvenile

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stock-photo-12689293-prisoner-s-arms-resting-on-cell-bars.jpgOn September 18, 2013, Governor Deval Patrick signed An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction into law. Before this law was signed, all seventeen year olds accused of a crime in Massachusetts were automatically treated as adults, regardless of the circumstances or the severity of the offense. This new legislation raises the upper limit of juvenile court jurisdiction in Massachusetts from seventeen years old to eighteen (the law does not change the juvenile court’s lack of jurisdiction over first or second degree murder cases where the defendant is fourteen or older on the date of the offense). Advocates for raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction have long argued that treating all seventeen year olds accused of a crime as adults is out of step with national standards – a majority of other states and the federal government use eighteen as the starting age for adult criminal jurisdiction. The legislature, and ultimately Governor Patrick, answered their arguments with the new law, striking a balance between holding young people accountable for their actions while acknowledging that they are in a unique position to change and grow from their mistakes.

The statute is effective immediately, but there are still many questions about its applicability. Of particular concern is the impact that the bill will have on pending cases in district and superior court. As a general rule, changes in the law are applied prospectively – meaning that a new law only applies to cases initiated after the law is in effect. There are, however, several exceptions to this rule, including where the law explicitly states that it will be retroactive, or where a lack of retroactivity would cause a result that is inconsistent with the intent of the law. This law is silent as to retroactivity. Therefore, it must be determined whether a failure to make the law retroactive would conflict with the law’s intent. On September 16, 2013, the Chief Justice of the Trial Court, Paula Carey, issued a memorandum on the issue of retroactivity. The memorandum states that the trial court considers the new law to be prospective only and that the court does not intend to apply the law to pending cases. Chief Justice Carey’s memorandum, however, is not likely to be the last word on this issue. To the contrary, it is extremely likely that defense attorneys and other advocates will argue that the law does apply to pending matters.

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gavel-thumb-240x240-72793.jpgOn June 20, 2009, a seventeen year old man shot and killed his friend in Callahan State Park, located in Framingham. According to the police, the defendant had accused the alleged victim of stealing his marijuana at a party the day before the murder. After the defendant made the accusation, the two got into a fistfight, and the defendant lost. The next day, the defendant reportedly told the alleged victim that they were going to smoke marijuana in the park. Once they got there, the defendant shot the alleged victim, who subsequently died. According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, the severity of the sentence the court can impose in the case is currently in dispute.

Even though thirty-nine other states and the federal government use eighteen as the starting age for adult criminal jurisdiction, under current Massachusetts law, all seventeen year olds accused of a crime are treated as adults, regardless of the severity of the offense. Therefore, although the defendant was just seventeen at the time of the murder, because it occurred in Massachusetts, he was tried as an adult. On August 22, 2012, following a trial, he was convicted of first-degree murder.

Under G. L. c. 265, § 2, a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. However, on June 25, 2012, after the defendant committed the murder but before he was convicted at trial, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Miller v. Alabama. This decision held that mandatory life sentences for defendants who committed crimes when they were under the age of eighteen are illegal because such sentences are a violation of the VIII Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. In light of the Miller decision, and the fact that the defendant was seventeen at the time of the murder, the trial court judge in the defendant’s case was not legally allowed to impose a mandatory sentence of life without parole after his conviction. Both the defense and the prosecution asked the court to hold a hearing to determine what sentence the court could and should impose in the case.

The prosecution sought to argue that the court had the authority to sentence the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and should do so. In other words, even though an automatic sentence of life without parole is illegal following the Miller decision, the prosecution sought to argue that the court still had the authority to sentence an individual convicted of first degree murder to life without parole, if the court determined that such a sentence was reasonable in the context of the case. The prosecution further sought to argue that if the judge declined to impose a sentence of life without parole, the court had the authority to impose a sentence of life, and set the minimum term that the defendant must serve before parole eligibility – for example, the court could determine that the defendant should serve at least thirty years before becoming eligible for parole.

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klcc-1-833930-m.jpgAccording to a recent article by Norman Miller at the MetroWest Daily News, a 32 year old Framingham woman is facing charges after allegedly taking three teenagers, including two of her children, shoplifting with her at the Natick Mall on Friday, July 26th. The defendant also reportedly had a 3-year old and 1-year old child with her in a stroller.

The defendant was arrested Friday at approximately 6:00 p.m. after store security at J.C. Penney allegedly caught her leaving the store with more than $740 worth of goods that she allegedly stole with the three teens.

Store security had reportedly been watching the defendant and the teenagers because they allegedly recognized them from a past shoplifting incident. The defendant and two teenage girls allegedly took several pieces of clothing into a dressing room and then emerged empty-handed two different times. Security personnel reportedly found price tags and empty clothes hangers in the dressing room. The teenage boy allegedly took several pairs of earrings and put them in his pocket.

After the woman and girls left the dressing room the second time, the group reportedly left, but security stopped them. The goods were allegedly found in the stroller that the group was using for the children.

The defendant is charged with three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child, larceny of property worth more than $250, and conspiracy to commit a crime. She was arraigned at Framingham District Court on Tuesday, July 30th. She was released without bail and is due in court on September 17th for a pretrial conference. The three teenagers will be summoned to Framingham Juvenile Court and charged with larceny of property worth more than $250 and conspiracy to commit a crime.

The defendant is facing serious charges, including a felony charge. If she were indicted and tried in the superior court she could be facing up to 5 years in prison and significant fines. If convicted, these charges will have lasting repercussions and affect her life for a long time to come. In order to prevail on the misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a child, prosecutors will have to prove that she knowingly or wilfully encouraged, aided, or contributed to a child under the age of 16 to violate a law. To prevail on the larceny charge, prosecutors will have to prove that the defendant took and carried away property that was owned by someone else and that she did so with the intent to deprive that person of the property permanently.

The teenagers are also facing serious charges, including a felony. Being convicted of a felony at such a young age can affect a person’s life well into the future and impact his or her ability to fulfill aspirations of college and career success.

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1342344_a_modern_school.jpgA recent article released by Citizens for Juvenile Justice details a new report about arrests in Massachusetts Schools. The report, “Arrested Futures: The Criminalization of School Discipline in Massachusetts’s Three Largest School Districts,” reviews arrest data from the 2007-08, 2008-09, and2009-10 school years, from Boston, Springfield, and Worcester schools. In all three districts, arrests for relatively minor misbehavior made up a substantial percentage, and in some cases the majority, of all school-based arrests
A substantial portion of those who are arrested in school are charged with public order offenses such as “disorderly conduct,” “disturbing a lawful assembly” and “violating codes of conduct.” These arrests are often due to behaviors associated with youthful defiance, such as talking back to teachers, refusing to sit down or comply with attempts to punish students, or writing on desks. Others are arrested for assault-related charges stemming from school yard fights.

Many schools in Massachusetts have officers on-site daily to patrol their schools. Some use officers from the town’s police, while others have officers who work for the school system. While some school districts use on-site officers to apprehend students who pose a real and immediate threat to the physical safety of those around them, others schools use these officers to mostly enforce their code of student conduct. Officers are often encouraged to arrest students, in many cases using public order offenses as a justification. These officers mostly arrest students who are unruly, disrespectful, use profanity, or show “attitude.”

In Massachusetts all seventeen year olds are automatically treated as adults for all offenses. Because of this law, an arrest can also mean the creation of a permanent, adult criminal record. It can also lead to incarceration alongside adult criminal offenders. Your child could be arrested at school for minor disruptive behavior; if your child is seventeen years old or older, your child could then have an adult criminal record from that and maybe even incarceration. These charges could have grave consequences for your child’s future.

These policies are causing more children and young adults to be arrested than would be if police were not so heavily present in schools. Infractions that would normally be a trip to the principal’s office or after-school detention are now a trip to jail and an appearance in court. These policies are worsening the “school to prison pipeline” that plagues our youth. Protecting children from being convicted of offenses, and especially from spending time incarcerated, is important to insure our children have a bright future and a clean criminal record.

If your child has been arrested, you’ll need a skilled and experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer on your side. In addition to my experience defending adults in Massachusetts Courts, I have experience defending children in the Massachusetts Juvenile Courts.

If your child is facing criminal charges or is being investigated, you need an attorney that has extensive experience in the Juvenile Court System. As a former Prosecutor in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, I have handled countless juvenile court cases and use this knowledge and experience in the Juvenile Court System to successfully fight for your child.

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angry teen.jpgMassachusetts Juvenile Courts were originally established with a mission entirely different from that of the adult District Courts. Juvenile Court is given a mandate to treat juveniles accused of crimes as children in need of age, guidance, and encouragement rather than criminals. To that end, when a child is put on trial for a crime in Massachusetts the jury is not instructed to find the juvenile guilty or not guilty. Instead, they are told if they believe the juvenile is responsible for the accusation they are to find him “delinquent”, rather than guilty.

For years there has been an ongoing debate about what options a judge has in sentencing a juvenile if he or she is found delinquent at trial. Some judges believed that after a trial a judge must enter a delinquent finding on the child’s record, and proceed to sentencing the child. This is in line with what occurs in adult court. In adult court defendants can ask the court to continue a criminal case without any finding against them and go on probation. If the defendant successfully completes probation the charge is dismissed. A defendant can only request this disposition before the trial of their case. After a trial in the adult District Courts if a defendant is found guilty a judge must enter that guilty finding on the record and proceed to sentencing. A judge does not have the authority to continue the case without a finding after trial.

Some Juvenile Court judges have always argued that because of the statutory language related to Juvenile Court they have the authority to continue a case without a finding in Juvenile Court even if the juvenile is found delinquent at trial. This debate was finally settled recently by the Supreme Judicial Court in the decision of Commonwealth v. Magnus M., a juvenile.

In the decision the SJC considered the case of a young man that was found delinquent by a jury for breaking and entering into a motor vehicle in the nighttime. After the jury rendered its verdict, the judge declined to find the juvenile delinquent, and instead continued the case without a finding (“CWOF”). The District Attorney’s Office objected and filed an appeal with a higher court in an attempt to get the CWOF overtuned and a delinquent finding entered.

After considering the the case the SJC came down on the side of the juvenile and the judge that granted the CWOF. In their decision the SJC relied on language in Massachusetts law that distinguishes the mission of the Juvenile Court from that in the adult court system. This is a favorable decision for juveniles facing delinquency charges, and reduces some of the risk associated with taking a case to trial in Juvenile Court.

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