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Does childhood end at 18?

Does childhood end at 18?

If someone commits a crime days after turning 18, should he be treated like an adult or a child?

In two recent cases — Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana — the U.S. Supreme Court held that life-without-parole should be reserved for the rare kid (defined as someone under 18) “whose crime reflects irreparable corruption,” citing the ability of youth to evolve and scientific discoveries about young adult brain development. “Children are different,” Justice Kagan wrote, neatly summarizing modern-day medical understanding and common sense attributable to anyone who knows a teenager.

But does 18 makes sense as an arbitrary cut-off? More courts across the country are saying no. After all, people under 18 cannot drink or rent a car. Experts say that the brain continues to develop profoundly between the ages of 18 to 22. And anyone with common sense who knows someone between 18 and 22 cannot reasonably argue that they are able to make the same judgments an adult would make.

In 2015, the Washington Supreme Court held in State v. O’Dell that the mitigating factors of youth can apply to defendants over 18. In a nutshell, this means that an adult defendant may argue for a less severe sentence because of his youth.

Sean O’Dell’s case was a prime example. Ten days after his 18th birthday, O’Dell raped a younger girl. (O’Dell maintains the sex was consensual.) Because he was charged with (and ultimately convicted of) second-degree rape, O’Dell faced a 6 to 8 years prison sentence as an adult under Washington law. At the sentencing hearing, O’Dell’s lawyer argued that, had O’Dell raped the victim just two weeks earlier, he would have been charged as a juvenile and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for a much shorter amount of time.

The facts here supported looking at O’Dell as a kid. He was still in high school and was hanging out with high school classmates — he was not a predatory older man looking for young girls. He lived with his mother and was fond of video games. And, while none of this legally supports whether O’Dell should receive a lesser sentence, there is plenty of scientific evidence that adolescents have poor judgment and are unlikely to appreciate the consequences of their actions.

As a result, the Washington Supreme Court pointed out that the statutory prison sentences did not take age into consideration — an 18 year old is treated the same as a 45 year old as a 75 year old. In its opinion, the court cited to many of the same reasons relied upon by the U.S. Supreme Court: “But [the Legislature] could not have considered the particular vulnerabilities — for example impulsivity, poor judgment, and susceptibility to outside influences — of specific individuals. The Court places a great deal of weight on scientific evidence that was really not available less than a decade ago.

And this week, a Washington State Appellate Court held that the principles of O’Dell— that youth could be considered as a factor in resentencing — was enough of a change in the law to be retroactive. This means that the defendant in this case, Kevin Light-Roth, is entitled to a new sentencing hearing so that he can have the opportunity to present evidence of his youth. It’s important to remember that these cases are not making a blanket statement about whether individuals deserve lesser sentences — rather they are simply providing the opportunity for young individuals to present evidence that they may be less culpable than others.

As courts across the country face resentencings for inmates who were unconstitutionally condemned to die in prison as youth, there is hope that the arbitrary age cut-off of 18 may soon erode to allow for individualized sentencing.

New head of Louisiana District Attorney’s Association no friend of reform

Supreme Court of Louisiana

New head of Louisiana District Attorney’s Association no friend of reform

Earlier this month, District Attorney Ricky Babin was elected president of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association.

He’ll take on this new role at a critical time for criminal justice reform. But Babin’s history and past statements suggest he will not be a voice for change, and will instead defend the status quo that has made Louisiana the most carceral state in America.

Babin has been the district attorney of Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes since 2009. During his time in office, Babin has repeatedly expressed support for the state’s policies that lock people up, and according to his own website prosecuted about 3,500 felonies a year— a large number for a district with about 170,000 people.

Babin has stood in the way of reform before. Earlier this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards formed a task force aimed at decreasing the number of incarcerated people in the state. The LDAA came out strongly against proposals that would reduce the sentences of people convicted of violent crime.

And Babin was one of the most vocal critics of the task force, at one point claiming that everyone in a Louisiana prison deserved to be there.

“These people have criminal records as long as my leg,” said Babin in a New Orleans Times-Picayune article. “There is not a single person that we put in prison that doesn’t deserve to be there.”

As the chairman of the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, Babin was criticized for focusing on punishment, over other areas like rehabilitation. The sentencing commission also looked at marijuana convictions in the state but did not make their findings public, and opposed legislation that would have given juveniles sentenced to life in prison a chance at parole.

The state legislature passed a bill saying the commission had strayed too far from it’s original mission. “It was just a subtle reminder of what the Sentencing Commission is supposed to do,” said state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, in an interview with The Advocate.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who sponsored legislation that created the Sentencing Commission when he was a state legislator, said the commission wasn’t interested in reducing the prison population even though it costs taxpayers $600 million a year. Louisiana jails people for nonviolent offenses at three times the rate of Florida and twice the rate of South Carolina.

“What they should be focused on is how to keep the state from spending hundreds of millions of dollars by locking people up instead of being smart on crime,” Richmond stated.

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Two North Carolina prosecutors indicted after hiring each other’s wives for phony jobs

Rockingham County, NC, is highlighted. Person and Caswell Counties are the next two counties over.
UNC School of Social Work

Two North Carolina prosecutors indicted after hiring each other’s wives for phony jobs

Two elected district attorneys in North Carolina have been arrested and one has pleaded guilty for a scheme that authorities said involved both men hiring the other’s wife for bogus jobs.

Craig Blitzer and Wallace Bradsher were both accused of taking about $100,000 in state money from the North Carolina payroll program for jobs that didn’t really exist.

Blitzer has pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor failure to discharge the duties of his office and his law license has been suspended. The case against Bradsher is still pending and Blitzer is expected to testify against him in the criminal proceeding, a civil whistleblower suit and in proceedings the North Carolina Bar will have against Bradsher.

Blitzer was the district attorney for Rockingham County while Bradsher was the district attorney for Person and Caswell counties.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, whose office is prosecuting the case, has said the former prosecutors will not face jail time if convicted but could face community service. The two men could also face punishment from the North Carolina Bar, including disbarment.

The North Carolina Bureau of Investigation started looking into the prosecutors last year after employees in their offices began complaining.

Pamela Bradsher had worked as a legal assistant for her husband for four years. When the district attorney sought to promote his wife, he was told by state officials that his wife actually needed to resign due to a state law that prohibited an elected official from hiring their spouse.

Blitzer hired his wife as a legal assistant when he took office in January 2015, but state officials almost immediately told him that Cindy Blitzer had to resign.

The two district attorneys responded by hiring each others wives. But court records said both women only worked sporadically, with Cindy Blitzer also being a full time nursing student.

According to the Greensboro News & Record “Cindy Blitzer never had security access to the Person or Caswell County courthouses, which means, if she came to work, she would have to go through metal detectors before being allowed entry. Employees in those offices said they saw her fewer than fives times in her nearly two-year employment there, which was from Jan. 13, 2015, to Oct. 25, 2016.”

The newspaper also said that Pamela Bradsher swiped a keycard to gain access to the Rockingham County district attorney’s office on 36 of the 156 business days she was employed.

Meanwhile, employees of both prosecutors eventually complained to state officials. One filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Bradsher alleging she was fired after she complained.

Another prosecutor claimed Blitzer ordered him to take an online algebra class for his wife while a victim-witness coordinator also took tests for Cindy Blitzer and did her homework.

Blitzer resigned in March after state investigators raided his office. Bradsher resigned in May. In June, the two were officially indicted.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper appointed former Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith to replace Blitzer and appointed Assistant Attorney General Jacqueline Perez to replace Bradsher. The two will finish out the terms of Blitzer and Bradsher, which conclude at the end of 2018.

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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