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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney juvenile crime

Nearly every jurisdiction in the United States has a special court system for minors designed to rehabilitate them rather than punishing them. This is based on the knowledge that juveniles have a greater capacity for change than adults, which is why Connecticut’s Juvenile Transfer Act was created. The act was intended to close courtrooms and seal the records of juveniles charged with the most serious felonies and whose cases were transferred to adult court. This act went into effect in October 2019, but a federal judge recently ruled that the Juvenile Transfer Act violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution.

Federal Judge Orders Records to Be Unsealed

A federal judge in Hartford, CT recently ordered the Connecticut judiciary to open courtrooms and unseal court records related to cases involving juveniles charged with the most serious felonies that were transferred from juvenile to adult court. Under the state’s Juvenile Transfer Act, cases involving minors who commit the most serious felonies, such as murder or sexual assault, which are transferred to adult court are closed to the public, and records are sealed, unless a conviction is reached. The judge ordered all juvenile cases transferred to adult court going forward must be open to the public and all case records, past and future, must be unsealed.

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East Hartford criminal defense lawyer for juvenile chargesThe juvenile justice system has always functioned differently than the adult criminal justice system -- and for good reason. Since the creation of the first juvenile justice court in Illinois at the end of the 19th century, it has been known that youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system have different needs than adults who find themselves in trouble. All states have a separate criminal justice system for juveniles, though in recent years, an increased focus has been placed on reducing the number of juveniles who come into contact with the criminal justice system. In an effort to follow suit, Connecticut recently passed a law to make certain juvenile trials are more private.

Reduced Charges Can Be Transferred Back to Juvenile Court

The new law, Public Act 19-187, changes quite a few things concerning the juvenile justice system. Existing laws state that the juvenile court is required to automatically transfer a case involving a child who is at least 15 years old to adult court if the case involves murder, a Class A felony or certain Class B felonies. If a juvenile is charged with any other type of felony, it is up to the court’s discretion to transfer the case or not.

The Act allows a case that was transferred to adult court to be transferred back to juvenile court if the charges were reduced to charges that would have been discretionary. Before the transfer can take place, however, it must be proven that the transfer was done for a good reason, and the transfer must be completed before the defendant pleads guilty.

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reform, Connecticut criminal defense attorneyIt has been five years since the Connecticut legislature added 17-year-old criminal defendants to the state’s juvenile court system. When the reform was first enacted, many feared that the change would overwhelm the juvenile courts and have virtually no effect on the likelihood of juveniles returning to criminal activity in the future. While the doomsday predictions have largely proven to be inaccurate, there is still concern among law enforcement and prosecutors that restrictions on detaining juvenile suspects and transfers to adult court have made their jobs more difficult and placed the public at risk.

The debate was reignited by Governor Dannel Malloy’s continued efforts to create an extension of the juvenile court system that would be used for most defendants up to 20 years old. For the last two years, Governor Malloy has touted his “Second Chance Society” initiatives, citing emerging research on brain development in adolescents and young adults.

A Wave of Teen Crime

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life sentence, Hartford Criminal Defense AttorneyHere in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy has been garnering a great deal of national attention for his work toward marked criminal justice reform. A large portion of his efforts focuses on developing a new approach to rehabilitating juvenile and young adult offenders. The Governor and his supporters believe that the developmental and cognitive differences between younger offenders and adults are significant, and processing defendants of all ages in the same system with the same sentencing standards may be doing more harm than good. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in recognition of such differences, extending a previous ruling that found mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles to be unconstitutional.

No More Automatic Life Without Parole

In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down federal and state laws that require life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder. By a 5-4 vote in Miller v. Alabama, the high court established that a young person found guilty of murder could be sentenced to life without parole, but only after careful consideration by a judge or jury of all the relevant factors, including the defendant’s age, maturity, and appreciation of consequences. In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that, based on individual consideration, “sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.”

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young adult, Hartford criminal defense attorneyThe state of Connecticut, in recent years, has been taken a leadership role in the national conversation regarding criminal justice reform thank, in large part, to the efforts of Governor Dannel Malloy. In the last year, Governor Malloy has focused much of his political attention on building what has become known as his “Second Chance Society,” one that, in his own words is “a little more forgiving” of those who may have broken the law but are willing “to fly right.”

As part of the initiative, penalties have already been reduced for simple drug possession, including the elimination of minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses. Now, Governor Malloy has set his sights on reforming the Connecticut juvenile justice system, aiming to prevent young lawbreakers from being forsaken as career criminals. While some of his ideas regarding juvenile justice have been met with skepticism—and in some cases, outright criticism—the governor and his supporters maintain the average 18-year-old is not mature enough to assume adult criminal responsibility. Lawmakers have yet to act on the juvenile reform proposals, but there is at least one major change in the works anyway.

Dedicated Prison

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