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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Juvenile's Rights Are Abused In Court:

Activists Say Courts Abuse Rights of Juvenile Defendants
Report: Amnesty International cites life sentences without parole as example. State spokesman calls allegation 'a stretch.'
California and the WestNovember 18, 1998|STANLEY MEISLER and JOHN GLIONNA, TIMES STAFF WRITERS
WASHINGTON — Amnesty International said today that an increasing number of children in American courts and prisons are subject to beatings, excessive detention, solitary confinement and other abuses of their rights.

Many of the abuses, according to the report, violate international treaties. As an example, Amnesty International, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to protecting human rights, cited California for sentencing juveniles to life sentences without parole.

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The report said 14 prisoners now serving life without parole in California had been sentenced when they were under 18. This, according to the organization, violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty signed and ratified by the United States. The Amnesty International report cited no other abuse of accused or convicted juveniles in California.

Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for the California attorney general's office in Sacramento, said he could not corroborate the Amnesty International figures for children sentenced as adults in California. But he said the state has the right to set its own laws on the matter.

"Californians elect their legislators and their governor to write the laws of their criminal justice system, and they should not have to abdicate that authority to foreign treaties approved by someone in Washington," he said.

"Critics of prosecuting juveniles as adults should come make their case at the state Capitol."

Larry Brown, executive director of the Sacramento-based California District Attorney's Assn., said Amnesty's criticism was wrongheaded.

"It seems a stretch to think that the drafters of any treaty would have in mind the type of juvenile offenders who receive a life sentence in California--they're not particularly a sympathetic class," he said.

"To receive such a sentence, the crime is first-degree murder with special circumstances. Those are the most heinous homicides on the books. California, like so many other states, when balancing between public safety and treatment of juveniles, for egregious crimes, the balance shifts to public safety."

Amnesty International said it was troubled by the tendency of many states to treat accused juveniles as adults and try them in regular courtrooms. The report estimated that 200,000 children are prosecuted in adult courts every year, 7,000 are held in adult jails before trial, and 11,000 are serving their sentences in adult prisons and other correctional centers.

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