Posted on January 30th, 2013 No comments
Inmates sentenced to life in prison for murder as juveniles are eligible for parole and must receive a “fair and meaningful” chance at leaving prison, a federal judge said Wednesday.
The order from U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara comes six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles. Juveniles sentenced to life in prison before the Supreme Court decision “will be eligible and considered for parole,” O’Meara wrote. “It remains to be determined how that process will work and what procedures should be in place to ensure that plaintiffs are fairly considered for parole.”
The web site for the Eastern District of Michigan was down when I checked it this evening. I will provide a copy of the opinion when I can access it.
Posted on May 17th, 2010 No comments
In Graham v. Florida, an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court held it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without parole when the crime does not involve murder. The vote is 6-3, with Justice Thomas dissenting, joined by Justice Scalia and in part by Justice Alito. Justice Alito files a separate dissenting opinion for himself. Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, concurs, even though all three join the majority opinion, and the Chief Justice concurs in the result alone.
The Court dismissed Sullivan v. Florida as improvidently granted, in this per curiam opinion.
Under Michigan Law, a juvenile may be sentenced to life in prison without parole, so this case will have a significant impact on juvenile delinquency cases in Michigan, specifically designated and waiver cases.
You can download the opinion here: Graham v. Florida
For more information regarding these cases, check out my previous blog post here.
Posted on March 1st, 2010 No comments
Today’s Detroit Free Press (3/1/2010) featured an editorial in favor of repealing Michigan’s law requiring judges to impose the maximum adult sentence to juveniles as young as 14. The editorial is based on the fact that juveniles are less culpable for their crimes than adults. The article points out that “teenagers are more impulsive and unstable than adults, even without the abuse and neglect many young offenders have experienced.” You can view the editorial here (Repeal Michigan’s juvenile lifer law).
Posted on March 1st, 2010 No comments
The Detroit Free Press published a couple of excellent articles regarding mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles in Sunday’s (2/28/2010) paper. One article addresses whether children who commit murders should be subjected to mandatory life sentences. You can find the article here (2nd chance for killer kids?). The Free Press also wrote an excellent summary regarding how these laws came into being, the various public policies behind them and events that prompted them. You can find that article here ( State got tough on juvenile trouble-makers in ’80s, ’90s ).
Posted on February 12th, 2010 No comments
Yesterday, I moderated the Juvenile Brown Bag lecture on the topic of ‘sexting.’ I have been working on a blog entry on this subject since December, but yesterday’s lecture inspired me to finish and post it.
With the increased incidents of “sexting” among teens, it seems appropriate to address the issue and the juvenile delinquency ramifications of this activity. Wikipedia includes a definition of “sexting” (a combination of sex and texting) as the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones. Roughly 20 percent of teens admit to participating in “sexting,” according to a nationwide survey (pdf) by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
There have been several incidents of adults and juveniles being charged with felonies for sexting over the past year. Last year, a 14-year-old girl in Michigan was charged with felonies for sending nude images of herself to classmates.
Michelle Simonson, 28, of Oxford was to go on trial, charged with distributing sexually explicit material to a minor and enticing a minor for immoral purposes and had faced up to four years in prison. But in a plea agreement reached 10/30/2009, she agreed to enter guilty pleas in exchange for three months in the Oakland County jail. (You can read the Detroit Free Press Article here). Police allege Simonson, a teacher at Sashabaw Middle School, sent the 14-year-old boy, a student at the school, a semi-nude picture of herself and about 50 texts over the course of the year. His foster parents discovered the texts and turned them over to police.
Brandon Figurski, a 20 year old assistant swim coach at Oxford High School, was charged with child sexually abusive activity, using a computer to commit a crime and communicating with another to commit a crime for sending sexually explicit texts to two 15-year-old girls. (You can read the full story on MLive here).
This month, a man accused of sending sexually explicit messages to a 14-year-old girl after visiting her home to set up her laptop computer was charged with one count of using a computer to communicate with another person to commit a crime, a 4-year felony, and one count of attempting to distribute sexually explicit material to children, a 2-year misdemeanor.
Clearly, sexting is pervasive in youth culture in America and law enforcement has taken notice. So, what are the legal ramifications to children caught sending and receiving these messages?
Under Michigan law, sexting can be a violation of MCL 750.145c, which prohibits the production (a 20 year felony), distribution (a 7 year felony) or possession (a 4 year felony) of child sexually abusive material. “Child sexually abusive material” is defined as “any depiction, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means . . . of a child (a person less than 18 year old) or appears to include a child engaging in [sexual intercourse, erotic fondling, sadomasochistic abuse, masturbation, passive sexual involvement, sexual excitement, or erotic nudity]. ” See MCL 750.145c(b),(h), (m). The statute includes detailed definitions of each of the prohibited sex acts.
A person that sends a sexting message may also be charged with use of the computer or internet in the commission a sex offense under MCL 750.145d. Most cell phones today are so called smart phones, which contain computer processors and are wirelessly connected to the internet through the cell provider’s network. These phones fall within the broad definition of a computer under the statute.
Who can be charged?
To illustrate who can be charged in a sexting case, consider the following scenario: A 15 year old girl takes a nude photograph of herself with her cell phone and sends it to her boyfriend. He then sends it to three of his friends, who each send it to 10 of their closest friends (for those keeping track, this photograph is now in the hands of 35 people – potentially within minutes of taking the picture). Who can be charged? The answer: everyone.
- The 15 year old girl can be charged with production and distribution of child sexually abusive material;
- Her boyfriend can be charged with distribution and posession;
- His friends can be charged with distribution and possession; and
- Their friends can be charged with possession.
This is a perfectly plausible and all too typical scenario.
The Sex Offender Registry
Another consideration in any sexting case is the requirements under the Sex Offender Registry Act. MCL 28.721 et seq. An adjudication triggers the registration requirements for the non-public registry for 25 years. A juvenile may also be required to disclose the adjudication on any college or financial aid applications. As always, if the juvenile is placed on the consent calendar, there is no adjudication and the file is not abstractable to any law enforcement or other agency.
Here are links to the statutes found in this article:
Child Sexually abusive activity: MCL 750.145c
Use of a computer in the commission of a sexual offense: MCL 750.145d
Sex Offender Registry Act: MCL 28.721
Posted on February 9th, 2010 No comments
This is a published opinion that was issued last month (January 19, 2010). I did not report on it earlier because it was classified as a criminal case on the e-journal, so I missed it. The young defendant in this case was charged as an adult, but the issue in the case dealt with a search on school grounds, which makes it appropriate for this blog.
This case arose out of the search of a student’s vehicle in the school parking lot based on an tip received from an anonymous tip hotline. The defendant was simply described as a male Caucasian junior who sells marijuana “from school, his truck, and East Bade [sic] Park in Traverse city.” A week after receiving the tip, the school’s assistant principal searched the vehicle, while being observed by the school’s liaison officer and some other school officials. The defendant was present for the search, but did not consent to it. The assistant principal discovered a bag of marijuana behind a seat in the vehicle and the defendant was arrested.
Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence as fruit of an unconstitutional search. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the anonymous tip alone was sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion, given the level of detail in the tip.
It is important to note the difference between a search by a school official and a police officer. The police may search a motor vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime may be found therein. People v Kazmierczak, 461 Mich 411, 418-419; 605 NW2d 667 (2000). However, school officials may search a student’s person or property on school premises on the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion. See New Jersey v TLO, 469 US 325, 341-342; 105 S Ct 733; 83 L Ed 2d 720 (1985).
The Court analyzed the search under the lower “reasonable suspicion” standard and did not express an opinion regarding whether the presence of the officer raised the standard. Reasonable suspicion requires “articulable reasons” and “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person . . . of criminal activity.” United States v Cortez, 449 US 411, 417-418; 101 S Ct 690; 66 L Ed 2d 621 (1981). In “a case involving an anonymous tipster,” whether reasonable suspicion exists “must be tested under the totality of the circumstances with a view to the question whether the tip carries with it sufficient indicia of reliability to support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” People v Faucett, 442 Mich 153, 169; 499 NW2d 764 (1993) (emphasis in original), citing Alabama v White, 496 US 325;110 S Ct 2412; 110 L Ed 2d 301 (1990). An anonymous tip can provide reasonable suspicion if it is considered along with a “totality of circumstances” that show the tip to be reliable. But alone, without any “‘indicia of reliability’” or “‘means to test the informant’s knowledge or credibility’” an anonymous tip is generally insufficient. People v Horton, 283 Mich App 105, 113-114; 767 NW2d 672 (2009), citing and quoting Florida v J L, 529 US 266, 271-272, 274; 120 S Ct 1375; 146 L Ed 2d 254 (2000).
In this case, the anonymous tip was the only basis for the search. The Court held the tip alone could not be viewed under the totality of the circumstances because there were no other circumstances outside the tip. The Court also held that the tip itself was vague. Thus, the anonymous tip alone was insufficient to support a reasonable suspicion. The Court reversed and ordered the evidence suppressed.
Judge O’Connell dissented indicating that the tip, considered in its entirety, was sufficiently detailed to provide indicia of reliability. He did not share the majority’s view that “corroborating circumstances” outside of the tip must be present for an anonymous tip to be considered reliable.
This case is instructive for any search on school premises.
You can view or download the case here:
Posted on January 29th, 2010 No comments
Below are some of the bills impacting Children’s Law we are following in the legislature along with links to the bills and bill summaries:
- HB 4118 - Gives special consideration for relatives in foster care placement.
- HB 4314 – Requires appointment of attorney in juvenile delinquency cases under (2)(a) and (d).
- HB 4518, HB 4596 – Repeal of Juvenile Lifer Law.
- HB 5174, HB 5175, HB 5482, HB 5483, HB 5484, HB 5485, HB 5486, HB 5487, HB 5488, HB 5489 – Juvenile competency procedures (Note: HB 5174 is not connected to the other bills).
- HB 5676 – Michigan Public Defense Act would create a statewide system of public defense.
I will do my best to continue to update you on these bills as information becomes available to me.
Posted on January 26th, 2010 No comments
A 10 year old Detroit boy accused of bringing an unloaded handgun to school was charged with a number of weapons violations in Wyane County Family Court. The incident occurred on January 20, 2010, when another student saw the boy with the gun in a bathroom at Brewer Elementary/Middle School and told a teacher. The teacher took the gun.
The juvenile pleaded guilty last week to possession of a weapon in a weapons-free school zone. The Wayne County Prosecutor issued a release today that a concealed weapons charge and a charge of minor in possession of a firearm in public have been dropped.
This is a little more than a case of “boys will be boys.”
Posted on January 25th, 2010 No comments
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice released survey results regarding sexual assaults in youth detention centers in Michigan. The data is based on anonymous surveys issued to children in youth detention centers. The survey revealed that nearly one in four kids said they had been sexually assaulted. All of the assaults reported were perpetrated by other inmates. No staff members were implicated in the assaults. I have excerpted the data from Michigan in the table below:
These results are very alarming. The offenders in these facilities are there for very serious offenses, which increases the likelihood of these incidents. However, these facilities must do a better job protecting these children.
You can view the full report here: U.S. Dept. of Justice Survey
Posted on January 20th, 2010 No comments
Last week (Thursday, January 14, 2010), the Oakland Press published an editorial criticizing Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper for not being tougher on juvenile offenses. Ms. Cooper states that there has been an increase in serious juvenile crimes in the county “mainly because of gang activity in Pontiac and in the southern part of the county.” She adds that the increased serious crimes, budget problems and staffing shortages result in other juvenile cases not getting turned around as quickly.
The article reports that the prosecutor did not follow through on an assault complaint in Waterford Township in which a female teen hockey player struck another player on December 5, 2010. The father of the victim in the matter is apparently upset because the other player is permitted to continue participating in sports. The school district has denied the father’s request that the school take immediate disciplinary action, suspend the player and remove her from all sports teams and athletic events. There was no report that the victim was injured. Yet, the Oakland Press feels the need to “question why Cooper seems to be taking such a casual approach to an apparently serious incident.” The report then goes on to criticize the prosecutor for not communicating her actions on juvenile offenses to the public.
Am I wrong here or is this report overly harsh on the prosecutor? First, I think it would be hard to argue that the prosecutor should give the same priority to a simple assault as she does a more serious crimes like Armed Robbery. A good prosecutor should direct her resources to the most serious crimes first. Second, I am not sure how much she should communicate the rationale behind the use of her prosecutorial discretion. There are ethical rules that prohibit her from making public communications that would have a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding .” MRPC 3.6. Finally, perhaps this issue was better left to the local school board, who did not find the offense serious enough to take action, to discipline the child, rather than as a juvenile delinquency matter.