Monder Law Group - News
Juvenile Justice-Reform Bills Passed by CA Legislature
On September 15, 2017, the California legislature adopted two bills jointly authored by State Sens. Ricardo Lara and Senator Holly J. Mitchell, by which major legislative changes have been introduced to the juvenile justice system. The newly approved Senate Bills 394 and 395 are the last two bills to be approved as part of the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at justice reforms for both juveniles and adults. The bills are now awaiting action by Gov. Brown.
SB 394 – Juveniles Life Without the Possibility of Parole – is a measure that would put an end to sentencing juveniles to life without parole. Additionally, SB 395 – Miranda Rights for Youth – is a measure that would make it impossible for those under 18 to waive their Miranda rights during the interrogations before receiving legal counsel.
Reputable San Diego criminal lawyers have already welcomed the reforms as a much-needed step towards greater equality and transparency within the juvenile justice system.
Mitchell and Lara started advocating for the #EquityAndJustice bills in January 2017, putting much emphasis on the bills concerning the juvenile justice system. Cases of youths who confessed to offences they didn’t commit were presented to support the proposed legislation. Research finding were also presented indicating that young people don’t understand their constitutional rights as well as adults, and are more likely to waive their Miranda rights in a police investigation.
Before SB 394 and 395, the California legislature had already passed SB 190 on September 5, another bill directly concerned with the juvenile justice system reforms. Namely, SB 190 – Ending Juvenile Fees, aims to put an end to the debt accumulated by families of incarcerated youths. More specifically, innocent defendants would no longer be required to pay fees for appointed legal counsel unless they are ultimately convicted. The measure aims to put an end to debt accumulation by the families with youth in the juvenile justice system.
The recent legislative changes are seen by many as a natural response to the overall shift in approach to treating juvenile offenders in the past decade, followed by an unprecedented decline in juvenile crime rate. Lawmakers reevaluated the harsh measures introduced in the late 90s and early 2000s, such as lowering the age for children to be tried as adults, through a developmental lens. Research conducted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice and published in 2003 offered insight into how the adolescent brain differs from that of adults. The findings greatly influenced the way states and courts started perceiving children’s and adolescents’ competence to stand trial.
Also, in 1999, San Diego County predicted that the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility would require 1,284 beds to house all its juvenile offenders by 2015. However, the average number of juvenile delinquents in 2015 was nowhere near the predicted figure – the average daily population of delinquent youths was 445. With such a conspicuous discrepancy, it became apparent that an in-depth research into juvenile justice system was necessary, followed by appropriate legislative changes.
The San Diego Association of Governments collected and published statistical data that clearly showed the decline in youth crime:
- The period between 2012 and 2016 saw a 39.5% decline in the number of young people under supervision of the SD Probation Department.
- Juvenile arrest rate went down 53% between 2011 and 2015.
- The juvenile hall population in San Diego has gone down by 48% since 2012.
Moreover, other counties have witnessed the decline over the same period, most notably Los Angeles (58%), Orange (55%), and Riverside (54%).
Ultimately, proponents of the juvenile crime system reforms have made use of research findings and statistical data to make a correlation between more lenient measures and the decline in juvenile crime rate. Moreover, they have consistently advocated prevention, evidence-based risk assessment, rehabilitation and family cohesion instead of locking youths up for minor offences. With the three Senate Bills 190, 394 and 395, many believe the juvenile justice system is sure to see changes and a shift towards greater justice and equality.
The recent changes also call for the further education of San Diego criminal lawyers in how to interview and counsel a juvenile client. For example, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) hosted a number of seminars on communicating with a juvenile client, incorporating adolescent brain and behavioral development science into the criminal proceeding, and other, many of which available online. San Diego criminal defense lawyers should get thoroughly informed of the recent legislative changes and best practices so they can provide the best representation possible.