Monday, August 10, 2015

Law Clinic Challenges to Unconstitutional Juvenile Justice Practices Affirmed by DOJ

For years, Washington University at St. Louis professor Mae Quinn and her students in the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic raised constitutional and other legal concerns on treatment of juveniles in the St. Louis County Family Court and other Missouri youth justice venues.   Prof. Quinn highlighted many of these problematic practices and experiences in her law review article, "The Other Missouri Model: Systemic Juvenile Injustice in the Show Me State."

Prof. Quinn and her students through in litigation and public education that the St. Louis County Family Court system failed to provide constitutional protections to juveniles. 

In November 2013 the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court.  Remarkably, clinic students were thereafter banned from appearances in St. Louis Courty's family court.  This seemingly retaliatory action was noted in a report released by the Department of Justice affirming the concerns raised by Prof. Quinn and her students.

 DOJ analyzed 33,000 juvenile court cases and found that black children are disproportionately represented in decisions to formally charge youth versus informal resolution. The Analysis of 33,000 juvenile court cases showed that Black children are disproportionately represented in decisions to formally charge youth versus handling matters informally.  Black children were also more likely to be placed in state custody and in a secure facility., detain youth pretrial, commit youth to Youth Services custody pending trial and place youth in a secure Division of Youth Services facility post- conviction.

Among the constitutional violations cited in the report are:

  • Failure to ensure youth facing delinquency proceedings have adequate legal representation;
  • Failure to make adequate determinations that there is probable cause that a child committed the alleged offense;
  • Failure to provide adequate due process to children facing certification for criminal prosecution in adult criminal court;
  • Failure to ensure that children’s guilty pleas are entered knowingly and voluntarily;
  • An organizational structure that is rife with conflicts of interest, is contrary to separation of powers principles and deprives children of adequate due process; and
  • Disparate treatment of Black children at four key decision points within the juvenile justice system.

Prof. Quinn responded to the report saying:

I am heartened by the report by the United States Department of Justice, which sheds further light on many of the legal concerns and constitutional issues my clinic students and I have encountered and been challenging in local juvenile court systems over the last six years.

“While we have worked with many caring and committed judges, prosecutors, and probation staff during this time — we have also repeatedly been shocked by practices that work to undermine basic rights of due process, representation and zealous advocacy. More than this, the very structure of the system runs counter to basic constitutional separation of powers norms — where everyone but the child and her lawyer (when one is present) — is part of the same team. In such an environment and culture, it is very hard to meaningfully represent children — largely poor youth of color — who are already at risk in this community.

“I am hopeful that this document — like other recent findings and reports that have been issued by DOJ, the Ferguson Commission’s working groups, and others — will serve as a further platform for change in the region. And, as before, the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic at Washington University School of Law stands at the ready — willing and able to represent kids in our courts and work collaboratively to rethink our juvenile justice system in the days ahead. At this point I believe there is plenty of good will and ability to bring about meaningful reform. I look forward to St. Louis County — particularly as it gets ready to open the doors on its new multi-million dollar youth justice center — serving as a model of best practices for youth justice across the country.”

Juveniles, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink


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