Monday, March 30, 2009

Legal Mess Fallout From Juvenile Detention Center Debacle

Michael Rubinkam and Mark Scolforo Of The Associated Press write an article featured in the Allentown Morning Call regarding the legal mess that will remain in reviewing the juvenile cases of Luzerne County's court fiasco. Judge Grimm was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review some 2,500 cases to determine if there is a remedy needed for lack of legal representation when juveniles appeared in the courtroom of former disgraced Judge Mark Ciavarella.

As Rubikam and Scolforo explain that task will not be an easy one.

The judge handling the matter for the state Supreme Court now faces the more daunting task of figuring out how to restore the legal rights of children convicted of serious offenses without endangering the public's safety or creating new problems of restitution or sentencing.

''It's going to be an extraordinarily difficult matter to conclude,'' Berks County Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, appointed to review thousands of cases handled by a disgraced Luzerne County judge dating to 2003, said Friday. ''At this point, I'm not prepared to tell you what the answer will be, because I don't know.''

Restitution plays an important role in Pennsylvania's juvenile courts and will factor into how the court disposes of the Ciavarella cases, said Jim Anderson, executive director of the state Juvenile Court Judges' Commission.

Also, a juvenile offense can raise the minimum sentence that an adult defendant gets in Pennsylvania, so any conclusions about expungement could, in some cases, result in early release of state prison inmates.

''Juvenile adjudication may prevent someone from being hired for certain kinds of jobs, may prevent someone from owning a firearm, all kinds of things,'' Anderson said.

Grim, who is chairman of the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission, said Friday that in some cases, a new trial might be the best solution. But that raises another problem -- Pennsylvania law prevents retrial of anyone who is at least 22 years old as a juvenile.

What cannot be lost in this process are that some of those cases involve juveniles justly sentenced for offenses like car theft, drug dealing, and assault. And more importantly we cannot lose sight of the affected victims of juvenile offenders in this process.

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