This story originally appeared on iWatchnews.org by the Center for Public Integrity.
In the wake of critical news reports, Los Angeles school police and administrators have agreed to rethink enforcement tactics that have led to thousands of court citations yearly for young students in low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods.
The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles-based Labor-Community Strategy Center each performed their own analysis recently of previously unreleased citation records obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, the nation’s largest school police force. The Center found that between 2009 and the end of 2011, Los Angeles school police officers issued more than 33,500 tickets to students 18 and younger, with more than 40 percent handed out to kids 14 and 10 years old. That was an average of about 30 tickets a day. A large portion of the tickets for younger children were for disturbing the peace, which can include a physical fight or using threatening or disruptive language.
Some parents and concerned juvenile-justice judges have questioned whether it’s appropriate for such minor indiscretions to be handled by police, rather than school authorities.
Arguing that heavy police ticketing of children is counterproductive, Manuel Criollo of the Labor Community Strategy Center said his group has met twice with L.A. Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman and Michelle King, a deputy district superintendent. A third meeting is expected to take place this month.
Criollo said Zipperman was surprised at revelations that children as young as 7 and 8 have been given court summonses, many of which include monetary penalties. Police and administrators agreed to discuss alternatives to ticketing for tardiness, disturbing the peace and “possession” offenses, which can include possession of cigarettes, lighters or magic markers that could be used for graffiti, Criollo said.
A spokesperson for L.A. Unified said in a statement that “LASPD is committed to reviewing the data and analyzing incident types in which alternative strategies can be feasibly developed, especially in areas such as truancy.”
During the week of June 18, the spokesperson also said, Los Angeles school police, “collaborating with other district offices and divisions, will begin to develop a timeline for working on identifying alternative strategies . . . Considering we are the largest school district in the state and second largest in the country, developing this timeline will take time and diligence. “
The Center’s analysis also showed that citations to middle-school students were highly concentrated in Los Angeles’ most heavily Latino and African-American neighborhoods. Los Angeles public radio station KPCC created a mapand also produced a report on the citations in collaboration with the Center.
In response to revelations about the volume of citations, district officials and police had previously maintained that court appearances would help students learn that fighting and other unlawful behavior would not be tolerated as adults.
“I’m not hearing them saying that now,” Criollo said.
A growing number of educational experts contend that introducing students to the criminal-justice system for low-level offenses actually pushes many away from school and increases the possibility of their dropping out. The areas where student ticketing is heaviest corresponds to neighborhoods where Los Angeles’ dropout rates have been highest. Criollo and others who want reforms suggested that a heavier police presence in lower-income neighborhoods leads to unequal police involvement in school life.
After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Los Angeles district agreed last year to take steps to reduce the district’s relatively high suspension rates of African-American students. As part of its review of Los Angeles’ ongoing reforms in discipline policy, the civil rights office is also reviewing the district’s history of court citations.
Criollo said it’s hard to tell from records released so far how many tickets originate with school administrators deciding to involve police in a school matter and how many are the result of officers’ own decisions to issue citations.
Photo by Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles
But then something remarkable happened, according to Greg Berman, author of the recent report “A Thousand Small Sanities: Crime Control Lessons from New York.” Over the last two decades, New York City experienced an unprecedented turnaround in violent crime. In 2009, there were 461 murders in the city, a 79 percent drop from 20 years earlier. Other crimes drastically declined as well, with the city seeing significant decreases in rapes, robberies and car thefts. Berman quotes Frank Zimring, author of the book “The City That Became Safe,” who called the crime rate reduction in New York City “the largest and longest sustained drop in street crime ever experienced by a big city in the developed world.”
The report, released by the Centre for Justice Innovation, explores the possibility of applying the policies and practices implemented in New York City to communities in the United Kingdom - where in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, London’s Metropolitan Police tallied more than 170,000 instances of violent crime, including 113 murders and more than 2,800 rapes.
Berman praised New York City’s commitment to incarceration alternatives, stating that the city has “long been blessed with an infrastructure of non-profit groups” such as the Vera Institute of Justice and the Center for Community Alternatives, which he considers vital players in the development of community-based solutions. Another key to the city’s success, according to Berman, is its use of specialized court-based programs, such as drug courts and mental health courts, which give judges the discretion to eschew prison sentences for treatment and rehabilitation services.
Place plays a critical role in policing, Berman says, not just people. And New York City successfully expanded its focus through its use of localized “hotspot” patrolling - most notably, the New York City Police Department’s use of COMPSTAT, which zeroes in on specific precinct and neighborhood activity. Also important, according to Berman, was the promotion of informal social control processes that encourage voluntary adherence to the law through implicit and explicit community and family pressure.
An example of community pressure, recently created, teen-led youth courts in some New York City neighborhoods allow local juveniles to hear actual low-level misdemeanor cases. According to Berman, youth court sanctions are intended to be restorative, not necessarily punitive.
“As valuable as they are in terms of training leaders and providing an early intervention for troubled teens, youth courts’ most valuable contribution is probably symbolic,” he said. “They are a potent symbol of the justice system being willing to cede a measure of authority to local voices and to engage in the co-production of justice.”
In his conclusion, Berman calls the United States’ legal system, and its often-overlapping federal, state and local jurisdictions, “notoriously labyrinthine,” but admits it sometimes allows innovation to bubble up. For New York City, Berman says most of the credit for the steep decline in violent crime should stay in the city.
“Very few, if any, of the programmes described in this paper originated among federal officials in Washington, D.C.,” he says in the report. “Indeed, most were the product of frontline police chiefs, judges, and other criminal justice reformers responding in creative ways to the immediate problems in front of them.”
But he also believes the federal government can help cities. He praises Congress for authorizing funding to put more officers on the streets of New York City, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice for supporting intermediary organizations that provide training and assistance to what Berman calls “would-be reformers” in the community. He said that, no matter which party was in power at any time over the last 20 years, federal investments in community courts and policing have remained relatively consistent.
“This may be the ultimate lesson of the New York experience,” Berman wrote. “The ability of local reformers to generate a thousand small sanities and the consistent willingness of national government to encourage and sustain them over the long haul.”
This story originally appeared on iWatchnews.org by the Center for Public Integrity
As a national debate heats up over appropriate student discipline, new data from Los Angeles reveal that school police there issued more than 33,500 court summonses to youths between 10 and 18 in three years — with more than 40 percent of those tickets going to children 14 and younger.
The data obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show that officers of the nation’s largest school police force issued the equivalent of 28 tickets every day to students during the 2011 calendar year. The Los Angeles Unified School District totals almost 680,000 pupils; the district’s police force has 340 sworn officers and support staff.
Students ticketed in 2009 through 2011 were disproportionately Latino or African American. Last year, black students represented about 10 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District but 15 percent of those ticketed. In 2010, black students were 20 percent of those cited.
Latinos, about 73 percent of the district enrollment, represented 77 percent of those cited last year. White students, nine percent of enrollment, were about 3 percent of those ticketed.
This sheer volume of citations, the racial and ethnic statistics and the number of younger children cited have all contributed to a brewing controversy over the role of police in public schools in Los Angeles.
Among those who have expressed concern is Judge Michael Nash, who presides over Los Angeles’ juvenile courts, and has actively supported reforms to reduce police citations for incidents he believes should be handled in schools or through counseling or meetings with parents outside court.
“How much time do our courts have to deal with these kids? I don’t think this has been effective, and it has dealt with them in a superficial way,” Nash said.
Nash, like other prominent juvenile court judges across the country, points to research showing that students who are pulled into court on minor offenses end up at increased risk of going on to more serious trouble and dropping out of school.
The courts, Nash added, “are not there for schools to abdicate their responsibility to work with kids on minor discipline matters.”
In 2009 through 2011, Los Angeles’ school police cited students for a wide range of infractions that include failing to wear a helmet while biking, jaywalking, vandalism, possessing markers that could be used for graffiti, having cigarettes or a lighter or marijuana possession.
Other than tardiness, one of the largest single categories of citations over the course of three years was disturbing the peace. This offense can stem from kids engaging in fisticuffs, but can also include threatening to fight or simply being boisterous or unruly in school or nearby.
Out of 2,378 citations for various kinds of disturbing the peace allegations issued to kids between 10 and 18 last year alone, far more than half — 1,522 — were given to students between 10 and 14 years old, the Center found.
About 30 elementary-school students from age seven to nine, all black or Latino, were also ticketed during this three-year period. Officers also cited several hundred adults each year.
Community organizations in Los Angeles are also analyzing the police statistics, which they obtained as a result of a public records request. The statistics do not include arrests officers made or summons to full-fledged delinquency court. The 33,500-plus citations in the new data represent referrals to what is known as Los Angeles’ informal traffic and juvenile court for lower-level allegations.
Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and other city police forces that operate in the district also ticket and arrest students. But the Los Angeles Unified School District Police are a constant presence, with officers posted in schools and patrolling nearby. School staff can request that officers get involved in discipline matters, but officers can also make independent decisions at times to ticket students.
District Police Chief Steven Zipperman, who has been receptive to community groups urging changes in how police interact with students, sent prepared comments Wednesday after the Center’s story was initially published. Ellen Morgan, spokeswoman for the school district and school police, said previously that the district had no response to the Center’s findings and that the chief wanted to review the statistics.
On Wednesday, in a written response, the chief said: “A student’s first contact with school law enforcement usually occurs in middle school. Hopefully, the contact is positive and the student learns from whatever mistake was made.”
Zipperman said “a citation is an educational tool,” and so it is expected that middle-school students will receive more citations than older students. He also noted that overall citations were “trending down over the past three years,” with African American students’ citations “trending lower” and white and Latino students’ citations rising in proportion.
The Center found that there was a decrease in tickets to 10-to-18-year-olds from 11,880 in 2009 to 10,172 in 2011. Some of that decrease, according to some community organizers, stems from a decline in daytime curfew tickets after complaints began to bubble up from parents and students.
Zoe Rawson, a lawyer with the Labor-Community Strategy Center — one of the groups that requested the citations information — said the data reveal that nearly a quarter of all citations were issued at the Los Angeles district’s middle schools.
“The majority of youth policed on campus,” Rawson said, “are being cited for conduct that is either non-violent or conduct, like fighting amongst students, that a school must anticipate and has the best opportunity to prevent.”
Rawson, who has represented students in court, said that there are proven methods that schools can turn to that help reduce disruptive behavior without resorting to police citations that include community service penalties or fines of several hundred dollars.
Ticketed students are ordered to appear in court with a parent during regular work hours, which means parents must often miss work, which can provoke considerable conflict within families, Rawson said.
Zipperman, in his written response, said: “School yard fights have been a part of school life for a long time. Many intervention programs are in place but young students do not always follow the program . . . Young students sometimes need a wake-up call so that they will not continue similar behavior as an adult. A visit to a juvenile-court referee should help make the student aware that fighting is not tolerated in society.”
Nash, the presiding juvenile-court judge, said many kids don’t tell their parents about tickets, and never show up in court. Their fines can accumulate into thousands of dollars, and they can face a misdemeanor charge for failing to appear.
Jesse Aguiar, 20, is an organizer with a group called the Youth Justice Coalition. He said he received his first ticket — for being disruptive — when he was at 11, at which time he viewed the citation as a badge of honor.
“It was like a dream come true to me,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood where I listened to Snoop Dog and that stuff. When I got a ticket from police, I felt that I was official.”
Aguiar said he went on to get into more trouble, eventually doing time at juvenile hall. His younger brother, Christopher, 16, was ticketed for vandalism last year for “tagging” under a freeway. Christopher said he was just bored and looking for something to do. He was also cited for arriving about an hour late to school.
“I overslept,” Christopher said. “I could have not gone to school, but I had an exam that day.”
The 12 informal juvenile and traffic courts, where “referees” rather than judges hear from kids and decide penalties, are slated to be shut down by June 30 due to a financial crunch.
Once that occurs, Nash said, the plan is to forward students’ tickets to probation officers, who will decide whether the cases merit a conference with parents at a probation office or should be sent to juvenile delinquency court, where students could face prosecutors. Youth advocates are concerned that a trip to juvenile delinquency court will only serve to further “criminalize” student behavior.
Nash said the pending closure of the informal juvenile and traffic courts “is really a golden opportunity for us to all work together to craft a way to deal with this without referral to law enforcement.”
Nash recently took steps to enact reforms inside the informal juvenile courts by ordering that referees there stop requiring students to pay daytime curfew fines, and instead refer students to counseling or community service.
The city of Los Angeles also recently amended its 1995 daytime curfew laws to drop basic fines of $250 and instead require counseling sessions to address root causes of tardiness or truancy and help students make plans to get to school.
Data editor David Donald contributed to this story.
Updated (April 25, 2012, 3:53 p.m.): This story was updated to add comments from Steven Zipperman, schools' police chief.
Photo: Creative Commons, bcmacsac1
According to police reports, Salecia Johnson was misbehaving, ripping items off walls and tossing furniture across her classroom. She was sent to the principal’s office, where she allegedly continued the tantrum, jumping on office equipment while attempting to shatter a glass frame on the wall. The report also said that Salecia knocked over a shelf, which slightly injured her principal.
An officer was called to the school and attempted to calm Johnson down. She resisted and consequently was placed in handcuffs and taken to the local police station.
Milledgeville Chief of Police Dray Swicord has said that the arresting officer will not be investigated for his decision, according to a WMAZ-TV report.
“Our policy is that any detainee transported to our station in a patrol vehicle is to be handcuffed in the back,” Swicord told WMAZ. “There is no age discrimination on that rule.”
Johnson was charged with simple assault and property damage, but due to her age, she cannot be prosecuted, WMAZ reports. Johnson’s mother, Constance Ruff, told local media that her daughter has been suspended from school, and cannot return to classes until August.
"She has mood swings some days, which all of us had mood swings some days. I guess that was just one of her bad days that day," Ruff told WMAZ.
Johnson’s parents are currently trying to organize community support, meeting with several activists and ministers earlier this week. One local supporter told WMAZ there were plans to take legal action against the Milledgeville Police Department and possibly contact Al Sharpton in an effort to bring the story to the national forefront.
Candace Ruff, Johnson’s aunt, speaking to WMAZ said although her niece had misbehaved, she did not think that her actions were severe enough to warrant an arrest.
“Call the police? Is that the first step?” she asked. “Or is there any other kind of intervention that can be taken to help that child?”
Encampments of protestors in New York and Oakland, both part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, were raided by police Monday and cleared of demonstrators, tents and garbage. Officials in both cities said the camps posed health and safety concerns for the protestors and nearby residents.
Police cleared the Occupy Wall Street camp in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, birthplace of the Occupy movement, Monday. About 180 to 190 demonstrators in the park were arrested, according to The New York Times.
At a news conference Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the park needed to be cleared because “health and safety concerns had become intolerable.” Protestors have been camped out in the park for two months. The mayor said the protestors were welcome to return to the park after it had been cleaned, but they could no longer camp out.
The park reopened Tuesday morning and about 50 protestors had returned to the park before police closed it a second time because of a temporary restraining order pending a hearing later in the day.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York inspired similar protests in cities across the nation and internationally, including in Oakland, the scene of another raid Monday.
The police raid in Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza was peaceful with few arrests, unlike a similar raid on Oct. 25 that culminated with police in riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the raid yesterday was publicized in advance and many protestors voluntarily left the park ahead of the 5 a.m. deadline.
By midafternoon, according to The Mercury News, protestors had erected 40 tents and a kitchen area at nearby Snow Park.
In a move similar to New York, Interim Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan said protestors were welcome to return peacefully to the plaza but could not remain overnight.
Photo by Soozarty1 | Flickr.com
Occupy protestors at the University of California in Berkeley, birthplace of the Freedom of Speech Movement in the 1960s, twice clashed with police Wednesday while trying to establish an encampment on campus. As seen in the video below, campus police hit students with batons while attempting to disperse the crowd. The Demonstrators linked arms while police pushed them back. Protestors are now accusing police of using excessive force.
Occupy protests are taking places in numerous cities in California, with the most violence occurring in nearby Oakland where protesters have clashed with police.
On Friday, Occupy protestors at Berkeley called for students to walk out of class Tuesday as part of a general strike in opposition of funding cuts to education, according to The San Jose Mercury News.
Meanwhile, Occupy protestors have voted not to erect a camp at Berkeley for the time being.
It’s no secret: Social media has redefined the way people communicate, especially among the under-30 crowd. Now, law enforcement agencies are catching on and increasingly incorporating social media into their arsenal of crime-fighting tools.
Over the past few months a series of high profile social-media-turned-criminal acts have made headlines -- from flash mobs turned violent on the streets of Philadelphia to Atlanta house parties taped off as homicide scenes -- and law enforcement has taken note.
Some agencies have been quick to recognize the potential of embracing social media. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has run a “Social Media Monitoring Center” since early 2009; Correction officials in California have worked directly with Facebook to thwart inmates from accessing social profiles while behind bars; And police in New York formed a special unit to monitor social channels for gang-related and other potential criminal acts.
In an age of status updates and geotagged tweets, sometimes it’s as simple as waiting for a criminal to make a sloppy post. But not every area of law enforcement has been swift to adopt the relatively new technologies. For them, there’s still hope.
A number of resources, conferences and workshops have been popping up around the net and the country.
Near the end of the month, experts and officials from across the United States will descend on Dallas for the fourth Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference. The three-day mash up of lectures, workshops and Q&As will focus around the central theme of public order.
According to conference organizer Lauri Stevens, there’s just too much to cover in three days. Each SMILE conference, now the fourth since early 2010, focuses on a subject within the industry -- from cyber bullying to investigations and public order.
“If law enforcement, as a whole, can understand what can be accomplished with these tools they can reduce crime, improve their relationship and put the community back in community policing,” Stevens said.
The Dallas Police Department, co-producer of the SMILE conference, has used social media in a number of communicative and investigative capacities, according to Lieutenant Scott Walton, Unit Commander for Media Relations.
Recognizing the potential of the medium, Walton said the department is always open to improvement and essentially has to be, in order to use it effectively.
“It’s such a growing area of communication, to keep up you have to be looking for the next way to use the technology,” Walton said. “It’s really becoming more important every day.”
Since founding the IACP Center for Social Media barely a year ago, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has seen an increase in interest from members of the law enforcement community.
Program manager Nancy Kolb said it’s important for law enforcement to be aware of social media’s impact.
“Social media isn’t going away,” said Kolb. “It’s not a fad. It’s something law enforcement needs to understand and be able to use for investigation and in terms of communicating with their community.”
The Center plans to offer a number of social media workshops at this year’s IACP conference in Chicago, Oct. 22-26.
Photo illustration: Clay Duda/JJIE.org
Most parents don’t want their children to fight but at radKIDS, hosted by Gainesville, Ga’s., First United Methodist Church’s Fit Fun Camp, parents looked on with pride as their kids punched, kicked and elbowed a police officer dressed in a heavy, rubber protective suit.
The children were demonstrating techniques for defending themselves against attackers or kidnappers while Crime Prevention officer Joe Britte of the Gainesville Police Department played the role of the bad guy. According to The Gainesville Times, the radKids program — Resist Aggresssion Defensively — taught kids how to escape an attacker through homework assignments and activities.
"If you ever have that happen to you, you know what to do," Madison Sartain, 10, a rising fifth-grader, told The Times.
After participating in a similar women’s self-defense course, First United Methodist Church’s recreation director, Vicky Bailey told The Times she wanted her church to host the program.
Children were taught moves like the hammer fist along with kicks and punches to stun an attacker.
"Those are the things that will stun an individual and give you time to escape, to get away and find help," Britte said.
The girl is maybe 15 years old? She is standing in the back of a building, or maybe it’s an alley way. She has her arms wrapped around her body and her teeth are chattering. When the officer approaches and tells her to leave the alley way she shakes her head and refuses. The officer moves in closer and reiterates his order to leave. Suddenly the girl is lunging at him, screaming, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Get away from me!” She is pushing her hands out at him, then pointing her finger at the officer, ordering him to keep his distance. We hear the officer say, “Whoa, hold on there. You listen to me young lady, I’ll arrest your ass if you don’t settle down. You want that? You want to go to jail?”
Officers watching this scene unfold during Strategies for Youth trainings often express their discomfort by laughing at the girl’s sudden, and seemingly unprovoked transformation into an accuser. “She’s acting like my wife,” one will say and the ensuing chuckles help dissolve the tension in the classroom.
When asked to proffer a diagnosis of what mental health problem the girl is experiencing, the male officers typically call out, “Psychotic,” “Schizophrenic,” “Bipolar,” or they just shake their heads. When asked, what they would do with a girl behaving like this, most officers express the belief that they would arrest her for disorderly conduct, at the very least.
If there are any women officers in the room, they generally won’t volunteer their diagnosis. But when asked, they’ll uniformly say, “She has PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder]” or they’ll speculate, “The girl’s probably been raped.”
Since 2000, understanding trauma and PTSD has become big business. There is trauma therapy. Trauma histories are used to mitigate punishment. There are trauma-sensitive schools.
We now know the extent of damage and disorder trauma inflicts on a child and a teen’s brain, how it bathes the brain in an acid bath of cortisol that literally corrodes the brain, that children’s nervous systems are basically re-wired—and not for the better. We know that the toll of hyper-vigilance from being on-guard in anticipation of another trauma leaves a legacy of physical diseases from asthma to depression to heart problems that endure long into adulthood.
Research also has told us that it doesn’t matter whether youth have experienced trauma first hand, or simply witnessed it at home or in their neighborhoods. Violence and death seen or heard cause intrusive thoughts, malfunctioning short-term memory and an inability to concentrate or sit still, weakening their connection to school.
Children and youth exposed to trauma organize their world according to what Giovanni Liotti calls the “triangle of trauma.” The 3 players in that dynamic are the victim, the abuser, and the rescuer. For the most traumatized youth, each interaction requires assigning each person into one of those roles.
And we know that children and teens living in cities, where police presence is greatest, are the youth most chronically exposed to trauma. They walk past shrines to their dead peers, hear events discussed in detail and rehashed and invoked and threatened in school. And they see it in the nation’s media and nightly news.
Yet, somehow, in 2011, most police interacting with youth are not trained to recognize, much less interact with a child or a teen in the throes of a traumatic experience or one who has experienced trauma.
How is that possible?
One reason is that police are not trained in child or adolescent development or psychology. The preliminary results of an SFY review of state police curriculum show that most state police officer standards and training (POST) programs do not include these subjects.
This lack of awareness puts youth and police at risk.
Police must understand how traumatized youth think and anticipate their responses for several reasons.
First, it’s important that officers understand that their presence as an authority figure is sufficient to make a traumatized youth become unhinged and lose control of their ability to regulate their behavior in what would appear to be a normal, rational manner. While many officers can understand that their comrades back from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan will jump and respond aggressively to loud noises like cars backfiring, it’s important for officers to apply that understanding to the youth they deal with, especially in communities with high rates of violence.
Second, when youth who have been traumatized become agitated in their presence, it’s important that officers not assume that traumatized youths’ behavior is intentional. Youth who have been chronically exposed to and/or actively traumatized are usually unable to regulate their emotions and anxiety. They engage in hyper-vigilant, protective conduct to ward off more trauma. The two most frequent protective responses are fight and flight. And these are exactly the behaviors that police believe, respectively, require control and provoke suspicion.
Third, officers should be on guard for traumatized youth who unconsciously assign them the role of abused, abuser or rescuer and pull them into that role.
Fourth, officers not trained to recognize the signs of a traumatized youth and see a youth’s hyper vigilance, extreme defensiveness, as intentional and oppositional often perceive these behaviors to reflect guilt that warrants a strong, physical assertion of authority and power. And for officers suffering from PTSD, it may lead to reflexive defensive responses. Too often officers’ chosen or reactive responses lead to escalation of youth and officer reactions, which can result in use of force and arrest.
It’s time we connect the dots: the gap in achievement, in positive interactions, in healthy communities owes a lot to trauma. As long as we continue to fail to recognize its implications, we can assume we will perpetuate it.
This piece originally appeared in the Youth Transition Funders Group blog.
[This article was reprinted with permission from YouthToday]
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that said a police officer must take a child’s age into consideration when determining whether to issue a Miranda warning to a juvenile suspect.
The case, J.D.B.v. North Carolina is the latest in a string of cases in which the high court has applied protection to certain groups of juveniles. The court banned the juvenile death penalty in the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case, and last year ruled in Graham v. Florida that life without parole sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of any crime other than homicide.
“This represents the court’s settled commitment to its view that kids are different,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director and co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. “It’s just a further shoring up of that direction they’ve been moving in for last several years.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said, “So long as the child’s age was known to the officer, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer,” law enforcement and the courts must factor age into a decision to give a Miranda warning to a juvenile suspect.
“Neither officers nor courts can reasonably evaluate the effect of objective circumstances that, by their nature, are specific to children without accounting for the age of the child subjected to those circumstances,” wrote Sotomayor, joined in her opinion by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
“This does not mean that a child’s age will be a determinative, or even a significant, factor in every case, but it is a reality that courts cannot ignore.”
Dissenters in the case – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – expressed fear that the decision would be the first of many to obscure Miranda guidelines past their usefulness.
The justices heard oral arguments in March in the case, which involved a 13-year-old boy who was questioned by police at his school in connection with two home burglaries. The teen was questioned in a closed (but not locked) room, in the presence of a police investigator, a police officer who was assigned to the school and an assistant principal.
J.D.B. initially denied being involved in the break-ins, and was advised by his assistant principal to “do the right thing.” J.D.B. was then told by the investigator that the case would be going to court, and that he might be detained before trial, at which point the boy confessed to the crimes.
The investigator then told J.D.B. that he did not have to answer further questions and was free to leave. The teen continued to answer questions until the end of the school day, and then went home.
It is the first time since the Miranda v. Arizona ruling established the current custody analysis in 1966 that the high court has mandated the consideration of a factor specific to the individual in question. The Miranda process historically only requires officers (and courts upon review) to consider specific circumstances such as where questioning occurred, how long it lasted or whether any physical restrain was used to keep a suspect in a certain place.
The majority cited a number of previous cases to bolster its argument that age is a factor worthy of distinguishing from other potential considerations about an individual.
“A child’s age differs from other personal characteristics that, even when known to police, have no objectively discernible relationship to a reasonable person’s understanding of his freedom of action,” Sotomayor wrote.
Sotomayor’s opinion cited Haley v. Ohio’s finding that in the specific context of police interrogation, events that “would leave a man cold and unimpressed can overawe and overwhelm a” teen, and quotes from the Roper v. Simmons case that ended the juvenile death penalty: juveniles “are more vulnerable or susceptible to . . . outside pressures” than adults.
Writing for the dissenting justices, Justice Samuel Alito voiced concern that the decision in J.D.B.could lead to a “fundamental transformation of the Miranda custody test – from a clear, easily applied prophylactic rule into a highly fact-intensive standard resembling the voluntariness test that the Miranda Court found to be unsatisfactory.
“I have little doubt that today’s decision will soon be cited by defendants – and perhaps by prosecutors as well – for the proposition that all manner of other individual characteristics should be treated like age and taken into account in the Miranda custody calculus,” Alito wrote. “Indeed, there are already lower court decisions that take this approach.”
More specific to the case at hand, Alito argued that juveniles are already protected in school by Miranda’s requirement that setting be a factor.
“The Miranda custody rule has always taken into account the setting in which questioning occurs, and accounting for the school setting in such cases will address many of these problems,” he wrote.
And juveniles are protected in general, Alito said, by the ability of judges to assess the voluntariness of their communication with police under the Fifth and 14th Amendments.
“If Miranda’s rigid, one-size-fits-all standards fail to account for the unique needs of juveniles, the response should be to rigorously apply the constitutional rule against coercion to ensure that the rights of minors are protected,” Alito wrote. “There is no need to run Miranda off the rails.”
During the oral arguments in March, Alito challenged J.D.B.’s attorney Barbara Blackman on whether or where a bright line should be drawn as to what age range must be specially considered by law enforcement. Alito expressed wariness over using the case of a 13-year-old who may not have understood that he could walk away from questioning to mandate protection for older teens.
“Sympathetic cases can make bad law,” Alito said during the oral arguments. “So take the same set of facts and let's hypothesize that this is a 15-year-old. Would the 15-year-old appreciate that he could go? Or make him a street-wise 17-year-old.”
He returned to this line of discussion in his dissent.
“Most juveniles who are subjected to police interrogation are teenagers nearing the age of majority. These defendants’ reactions to police pressure are unlikely to be much different from the reaction of a typical 18-year-old in similar circumstances. A one-size-fits-all Miranda custody rule thus provides a roughly reasonable fit for these defendants.”
The majority was not persuaded by that argument.
“Though the State and the dissent worry about gradations among children of different ages, that concern cannot justify ignoring a child’s age altogether,” Sotomayor said. “Not once have we excluded from the custody analysis a circumstance that we determined was relevant and objective, simply to make the fault line between custodial and noncustodial ‘brighter.’ "