Weekly Notes: More thoughts on Supreme Court case; resource for selling juvenile justice reform to GOP; and more

***The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in J.D.B. v North Carolina on Wednesday, a case that might change the rules for police when it comes to deciding whether to issue a Miranda warning to youths.

The decision to read someone his rights, versus to question him out of custody, emanates from that person’s reasonable ability to believe he is free to end the questioning at any time. So in English, what’s being asked by J.D.B.’s side is for the court to say, “officers  have to be really sure that a youth understands he’s free to leave an interview, or they have to read them their Miranda rights.”

We posted some pre-game thoughts on what big questions might dominate the arguments here, and covered the proceedings here.

It is a fool’s errand to prognosticate what the high court will do with a case, but here are a few plausible thoughts on possible outcomes to J.D.B. v North Carolina based on the arguments and briefs:

Nothing: Side with North Carolina, and dismiss J.D.B.’s request that a court (and in turn law enforcement officers) should have to make age a factor in custody decisions.

Age becomes factor for minors: A rule that mandates factoring age in for anyone under the age of 18. It has been awhile since the court set a bright line on youth issues using a line other than 17/18. It was clearly on the minds of the court when the justices heard two life without parole cases in 2010 – one case involved a 13-year-old and another was 17 – and in those it set the line at 17.  

School-only: The court requires that the school setting must be a factor when determining a minor’s ability to comprehend that he is free to end the questioning at any time.  

Open-test rule: In a previous Supreme Court case about age and Miranda (Yarborough v Alvarado), Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent and promoted the idea of an open test of objective factors, meaning that anything about a subject that would be readily known to both an officer and subject, including age, should be considered an objective factor for determining custody.

Such a test would mean that Suspect “Joe” could argue in court that an officer should have known that Joe didn’t feel free to leave on account of any objective factor that the officer knew to be true about him. Since a court could find that argument compelling, and potentially change the outcome of a case, the pressure would be on officers to take any objective factor about a person into account when deciding to proceed without Mirandizing.

Breyer would like to see that concept win the day on this case.

***Day 794 without a nominee for administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Lately, the main comment we have heard is “who would even want it at this point?” Assuming a long, drawn-out confirmation process, which is pretty much the new normal, the person would have, at most, only one year on the job if President Barack Obama is not reelected in 2012.

***A letter from the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition was sent to the White House yesterday. It was signed by 39 organizations, and it begins with an awkward request for the president: oppose part of your own budget.

“On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we urge you to oppose the proposed reorganization of funding for federal juvenile justice grant programs outlined in the President’s FY12 budget,” the letter said.

So the advocacy approach appears to be, get the White House to take a mulligan on its own juvenile justice budget, and communicate that to appropriators, as opposed to lobbying against the president to appropriators.

***Checked out the Youth Transitions Funders Group summit in Washington this week, a collection of foundations making grants aimed at helping at-risk youth connect to adulthood by age 25. Good stuff, lots of really great presentations on subjects including reaching dropouts, reframing the approach to working with juvenile prostitutes, and how states are using federal School Improvement Grants given out by the Department of Education.

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at a conservative think tank called the Texas Public Policy Foundation, gave a 10-minute presentation on how juvenile justice reform lines up with conservative ideology, and his Power Point presentation is an excellent resource for anyone who is trying to sell Republicans in their district on the value (both fiscal and moral) of moving away from secure beds and toward more treatment and community options.

Levin agreed to share the Power Point with JJ Today readers, so: have at it!

***Some good reads of late:

– Click here to read Kaitlin Mayhew’s breakdown of the Justice Policy Institute report this week that questions the value of drug courts. The report really seeks to make two points: the courts might not be all that worthwhile period, but if there is value, it is in handling cases where a person committed a serious offense where the underlying reason was their drug addiction. Too often, JPI argues, the courts simply handle drug cases that should be diverted.

– OJJDP has published a four-page overview of the findings so far from Pathways to Desistance, a project that followed 1,354 serious adolescent offenders for seven years following their convictions. The gist from what has been produced as of yet: prolonged incarceration doesn’t work well; good aftercare services do, especially family-involved drug treatment; and most serious juvenile offenders will eventually stop committing crimes no matter what you do with them.

***The Coalition for Juvenile Justice is hosting its annual spring conference on May 20-24. The conference will cover, among other subjects, current themes in sentencing reform, the needs of status offenders, juvenile life without parole, efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.



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