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2 juvenile crimes cases spur action from California Supreme Court

When it comes to punishment for crimes, many people feel that we should give juveniles the benefit of the doubt. Without the extensive real-world experiences that adults lean on to determine right from wrong, juveniles often have to learn these lessons by making mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes are criminal in nature and can even lead to legal consequences.

But because of this lack of real-world experience, these juveniles may also lack legal knowledge as well and often rely on their defense attorney and other figures in the legal system to help guide them through what is considered by some to be a scary situation. But two cases brought before the California Supreme Court recently showed that this doesn’t always happen in juvenile crimes cases.

Although the two cases before the court were very different, they both encountered similar outcomes: two lower courts misinterpreted state laws. In the first case, the issue was whether the 13-year-old defendant should have been allowed to plead no contest to the charges against him despite not having the consent of his attorney. Although the 3rd District Court of Appeals argued that the juvenile should have been allowed to plead no contest, the California Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the lower court’s decision. It pointed out the importance of legal counsel for juveniles, especially because they may not completely understand the gravity of pleading no contest at such a young age.

The second case dealt with the issue of sentencing juveniles to spend time in state correctional facilities even though their most recent crime was nonviolent. In this case, the Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s decision to send the juvenile to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for 11 years and 8 months even though his most recent crime was nonviolent. According to the court, the language in the statute is clear: a juvenile may not be incarcerated unless their most recent offense was violent or a serious offense that is listed in a section of the Penal Code.

Because of misinterpretations of the laws, these two juveniles found their rights in danger. But with the help of the state Supreme Court, these issues have been corrected, hopefully not to repeat again in future cases.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, “California Supreme Court rules on two juvenile justice issues,” Denny Walsh, April 3, 2014

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