Saturday, January 03, 2015

More than check-box form needed to certify juvenile defendants as adults

More from the SA Express-News (Jan. 2) on recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rulings requiring the state to better justify decisions to certify juvenile defendants to be tried as adults. The story opened:
For the first time, Texas appeals courts have overturned the convictions of two teenagers tried as adults, ruling that the juvenile courts did not provide enough evidence to explain why the youths were “certified” as adult defendants.

Juvenile justice advocates and some lawmakers say the two cases, both from Harris County, show that it’s past time to examine how the state pushes defendants under 17 into the adult criminal justice system. Critics say this practice, known as certification, follows a pro-forma, rubber-stamp process.
Basically Harris County was using a check-box form that allowed the judge to avoid making findings specific to the individual:
the decisions noted the Harris County juvenile court did not give sufficient evidence as to why the youths in question should stand trial as adults. Instead, it relied on a “form order” process that allows judges to check off boxes and fill in the blanks for each certification, rather than give a detailed explanation for why a defendant was mature enough, and how a crime was egregious enough, to warrant trial in the adult criminal justice system.
And here are a few data from the story on adult certification:
The number of juvenile certifications statewide has dropped in recent years, from 248 in 2008 to 209 five years later. Harris County experienced one of the biggest drops — from 78 to 29 over that same period — a shift some chalk up to a combination of increased pressure on the three juvenile judges and a greater emphasis by some to take more time on certification cases.

Smaller counties in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere on the Texas-Mexico border have seen a recent increase. Where Harris County’s certification rate stood at 7.4 for every 100,000 juveniles in 2013, the rates in Val Verde and Starr Counties were more than 200 times that.
See earlier Grits coverage and a recent Ted Talk on the subject by the LBJ School's Michele Deitch.


Lisa Stassi said...

I've always wondered why, as a society, we choose to cave and treat juveniles as adults in the courts but I guess that the bottom line is the victims and what they endure. I mean, why bother to have a juveniles justice system at all if you are going to disregard it every time some 14 year old does something really heinous?

A more detailed explanation of WHY a juvenile is certified as an adult is a good start but in the interest of fairness, I would love to see, very near this explanation for certification, some explanation for the behavior of the child such as a history of domestic violence when the child was young, maybe even a history of police calls to the house. As a society, isn't it time to acknowledge that a violent and abusive family life creates child criminals?

Bina Besiege said...

I agree that there should be detailed evidence and facts on why a juveline should be treated as an adult, this typical check forms do not offer any details on the reason behind such a certification.

It is only fair because these young kids have a long life ahead and an unjust certification will put them in the same club as seasoned criminals.