Tag Archives: juvenile

Murdered Children and ‘Honey Bun Hits’: A brutal look at Juvenile Corrections in Florida

This week the Miami Herald dropped a bombshell on Florida’s juvenile justice system and the Department of Juvenile Justice. They spent two years researching the last 10 years of juvenile justice history to prepare a report they call “Fight Club.” It’s a devastating read.

The Herald found multiple instances of violence against juveniles. Some from the guards, and others from inmates, sometimes at the behest of guards who would reward them with Honey Buns or other items from the commissary. The article points to low pay, inadequate personnel screening and standards, and tolerance for cover-ups. Indeed, Time and again the Herald found that guards involved in the violence, including juvenile death, were not criminally charged (much like the adult guards in the CCI homicide a couple years back.)

One of the facilities highlighted was here in SW Florida, at the Fort Myers Youth Academy. The Herald says the Youth Academy is a microcosm, “steeped in violence and a culture of coercive cover-ups.” It details guards that were hired, even though they’d been fired from previous prison guard jobs for sexual harassment and bribery to hide abuse. It sounds like the troublemakers cited in the report no longer work there, but the account is troubling.

DJJ filed a lengthy response. Unfortunately, the lives lost by years of abuse cannot be brought back, but hopefully a true culture change can prevent such abuses in the future.

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Florida Needs to Seal All the Juvenile Records

Redacted Mug Shot of the 9-Year Old Child

Redacted Mug Shot of the 9-Year Old Child

Yesterday, a nine-year old boy was arrested for striking and threatening his family members. I found out about this because after he was arrested, his mugshot was published online. The mugshot was then picked up by one of the many mugshot publishing web outfits, which promptly put it on Facebook, where it was viewable by their thousands and thousands of subscribers. It then got picked up by other websites, which also re-published his name and photograph.

The News-Press covered the story, but had the editorial restraint not to publish the boy’s name or photograph. I have also edited the photograph, and will not be publishing the boy’s name.

To be clear, there has been nothing improper. The child was charged with several felonies (though he has not been convicted at this time, and it is rather unlikely that the State Attorney’s office will seek to convict him.) Prosecutors will likely be most concerned with getting him counseling to head off a lifetime of violence. But, due to the charges, it is permissible for the Sheriff’s office to publish the photograph. Thanks to First Amendment rights, once media outlets are in possession of the information, they are allowed to publish it. I commend the News-Press from declining to identify the child, though they lawfully could have done so.

I think what’s at issue here is the fact that juvenile arrests are not confidential under Florida law. The criminal case file will be confidential, including the convictions of delinquency for any child unless they are prosecuted as an adult. Ironically, if alternative sanctions are pursued, or the charges dropped, the disposition of the case is not available to the general public. However, the arrest information, including the mug shot and initial charges, are public information. And in this boy’s case, they are out on the internet, and liable to follow him for the rest of his life, regardless of the outcome of the case.  That’s the state of the law in Florida, at this time.

I am a strong defender of the First Amendment, and of the openness of government records. However, if there is anything that should not be public record, and there are quite a few protected areas under the law, criminal allegations against children should almost certainly be included. We won’t let the public know when children are found to be delinquent… but we’ll put their picture on display regardless of whether the charges are even pursued. It’s counter-intuitive to publish one and not the other. The legal discrepancy doesn’t make sense, and this law is a candidate for the Worst Laws in Florida.

Risk Assessments: Will People be Sentenced for Crimes they Might Commit in the Future

Fivethirtyeight.com took an in-depth look at the growing use of Risk Assessments in the criminal justice system. Risk Assessments generally use statistical comparisons to determine whether people’s circumstances are more likely to re-offend. So far, they have primarily been used as part of the evaluation as to what bond, if any, is appropriate for pretrial release. One of the main functions of bond are to protect the community from future harm, and the statistics can help predict the likelihood of additional offenses while the person is on community release. They are used here in Lee County as part of the First Appearance (bond) hearing, as well as statewide in Juvenile court.

Now, some places are considering using them in sentencing, the article specifically references Pennsylvania considering it. In theory, such a sentencing plan could help provide less harsh sentences for people who are unlikely to re-offend. However, the big problem that jumps out is the converse… that people could be sentenced more harshly for the chance that they could commit more crimes. That is, they would be punished for crimes they had not committed. That’s inherently problematic, and would likely face Constitutional challenges if the doctrine ever becomes law. There are additional problems, such as inherent racial imbalances that would likely permeate a statistical system, and departing from individual, case by case sentencing that could specifically consider the characteristics of each case and each Defendant.

The use of Risk Assessments in sentencing runs a severe risk unfairly punishing people based on speculative, generic “likelihood” guesses of future offenses. That doesn’t do a good job of evaluating the person involved, and may not sentence people for the crimes they actually commit. Further, it is likely to run afoul of Constitutional safeguards against unusual punishment.

Former Judge Tracie Hunter Going to Jail

Judge Tracie Hunter

Judge Tracie Hunter

Judge Norbert Nadel has sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to 6 months of incarceration for her felony conviction. According to Cincinnati.com’s Kimball Perry, she can serve in the detention center so she doesn’t have to go to prison, and she can turn herself in after Christmas. Her attorney has asked to stay the sentence pending the outcome of the appeal. That’s not an unreasonable request, as there are certainly some major issues to be dealt with on appeal, such as the jurors trying to go back on their verdicts. That motion will be heard at a later time. Nadel felt that incarceration was appropriate, even as a first time offense, due to the position of trust as an elected official.

via: https://twitter.com/kimballperry

Massive Gnome Theft Ring Busted in Scotland

The Famous Travelocity Gnome

The Famous Travelocity Gnome

Two Scottish teens have been arrested in connection with 33 lawn gnome thefts in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Some of the gnomes are still in “custody”, waiting for owners to come forward. No word on whether the teens are fans of the movie “Amelie”.

When Can Juveniles Be Tried as Adults in Florida?

Recently, Crimcourts covered the 9-month-old in Pakistan charged with attempted murder. That got me thinking about the rules in Florida, and how old someone has to be to be tried as an adult, as there have been some high-profile cases of young people being tried as adults. For certain serious offenses, there is no minimum age for children to be tried as adults in Florida. According to a juvenile sentencing report by the University of Texas, there are examples of 11-year-olds being charged as adults, and that theoretically a 7-year-old accused of murder could stand trial as an adult. For less serious offenses, children over age 16 can be charged as adults at the discretion of the prosecutor, even for misdemeanors if they have priors.

Christian Fernandez

Christian Fernandez

Florida was recently in the news for the case of Christian Fernandez, a 12-year-old charged as an adult in Jacksonville, who faced mandatory life in prison without parole if convicted at trial. Ultimately, Fernandez plead to a deal that allowed for him to be sentenced as a juvenile, and he will remain incarcerated until he turns 19. That’s the most recent of a history of aggressive prosecutions of juveniles.

Lionel Tate at 14

Lionel Tate at 14

Florida made news several years ago when Lionel Tate, who was also 12 at the time of his offense, lost at trial and was sentenced to life in prison. He was the youngest person in America to have been sentenced to life without parole, until his sentence was overturned on appeal. He then entered a plea deal that spared life in prison, and he ultimately violated his probation by committing a robbery. Tate’s case also garnered attention because he was convicted of felony murder, which means that he did not have to intend the death of the playmate he killed. It was a first degree felony murder because it occurred in the commission of child abuse, despite the fact that Tate was only 12, himself.

There has been a growing effort in Florida to amend the way juveniles are handled in relation to adult court. Currently, Florida prosecutors are given great power in that they have unquestioned discretion to “direct file”, that is to charge a juvenile in adult court. It most instances, the decision cannot be reviewed by a judge, or appealed. The Florida Times-Union did a fascinating examination of how prosecutors gained this power during a reactionary period 20 years ago when there were several high-profile attacks on tourists. This unfettered discretion could lead to abuses if State Attorneys use it unfairly.

The Florida Bar has a committee advocating for the Legal Needs of Children, who are pushing the recommendations from 12 years ago against the direct filing of juveniles. The committee has been advocating changes for years. The committee’s position was recently adopted by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors as an official legislative position of the Florida Bar. This isn’t a minority advocacy group, or even a Defense oriented group, this is the position of the Florida Bar as a whole.

State Attorney Angela Corey

State Attorney Angela Corey

Rob Mason, an assistant public defender in the 4th circuit, and director of that office’s juvenile division, says that the State does use their power to unfairly coerce pleas from juveniles in his circuit. Angela Corey, who has raised red flags around here before, is the State Attorney there, in the circuit including Jacksonville. Mason’s allegations about her practices seem to be borne out in the record. He says that about 80% of the direct commitments handled by his office are threatened with being charged as adults, which entices a quick plea to avoid potentially longer sentences for those juveniles. Moreover, the Florida Times-Union reports more than 1400 direct commitments over the last four years. In contrast, there were only 34 during the same period Miami’s district, in spite of having about twice as many juveniles as Jacksonville’s. Further, 29 percent of the direct commitments in Jacksonville stem from misdemeanor cases. Those kids are likely receiving harsher sentences as juveniles that comparable adult offenders. It was Angela Corey’s office that filed Christian Ferndandez’s case in adult court, before relenting.

The great power afforded to prosecutors in Florida is unnecessary. It would not be a great burden to use judicial review for the appropriateness of such decisions. The majority of state attorneys probably do not abuse the discretion, but the numbers suggest that even one can negatively affect thousands of children. Judicial review would put a check in the system to ward off abuses, and still allow prosecutors to push for adult prosecution where it was appropriate: not just whenever it is convenient or advantageous to coerce a plea deal. That’s why the Florida’s Bar’s Legislative committee will now advocate for such a change.

More on the Ashley Toye Sentence Being Overturned

 

Ashley Toye

Ashley Toye mug shot

NBC-2 has posted a story with some more details tonight, as does the News-Press. 

You can read the appellate opinion yourself on the 2nd DCA website. The court essentially said the other rulings about juvenile sentencing should apply retroactively, which means Toye is entitled to a resentencing hearing. It doesn’t mean she will be getting out of prison any time soon, but it likely means her life sentence will be reduced.