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Sunday, December 26, 2010

New York Says" Put Juveniles back In The Juvenile System"

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Tuesday. The mayor called the juvenile prison system costly and ineffective.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that he would ask New York State to turn over control of prisons and services for juvenile offenders to local governments, a move that he said would end the failed and costly practice of shipping troubled young people from New York City to upstate facilities far from their families.

Mr. Bloomberg also said that he planned to pursue changes to state law that would allow the rapid closing of large detention centers that are mostly empty but fully staffed.

He said that keeping children close to home and in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate would help reduce the “entirely unacceptable” recidivism rates: 81 percent of boys in the system return within three years of their release.

“This turnstile kind of in-and-out does not serve anybody,” the mayor said during a news conference at City Hall. “It keeps us less safe than we need to be. It is phenomenally costly, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help people get their lives back on track.”

The state’s troubled juvenile justice system has been under siege of late.

Last year, a state task force reported that young people battling addiction or mental illness received little counseling and were often abused by violent offenders. In July, the state agreed to place four of its most dangerous youth prisons under federal oversight.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal will most likely face resistance. For upstate lawmakers, the juvenile prisons represent well-paying jobs in struggling areas. The union for most of those workers, the New York State Public Employees Federation, successfully advocated for a change to state law in 2006 that required a year’s notice before facilities could be closed. A union spokeswoman said Tuesday that the union would oppose Mr. Bloomberg’s request for that law to be thrown out.

One state official said the mayor’s proposal for returning offenders to the city could drain money from the programs for juvenile offenders elsewhere in the state, leaving them without resources for detention and services. About 60 percent of the young people incarcerated are from New York City.

“We would have to send upstate kids downstate,” said the official, who would speak only anonymously because he did not know what position Governor-elect Andrew M. Cuomo would take on the matter. “We don’t want to create unintended consequences.”

Leaders in the State Senate and the Assembly said they had not yet seen the proposals and could not comment.

But recent struggles on related issues suggest that the mayor could face opposition in Albany. During the last legislative session, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed rescinding the state law that requires 12 months’ notification before closing facilities, even when they are empty. But the Legislature did not act.

And Dean G. Skelos, the State Senate Republican leader, recently told the Newsday editorial board that prisons should not be closed without a plan in place to provide jobs within the community.

Mr. Bloomberg said he had not yet spoken with Mr. Cuomo about the proposal. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo declined to comment.

During his campaign, Mr. Cuomo released a plan for improving the juvenile justice system and consolidating additional underused prisons. He recently toured the Tryon Residential Center for Boys in Johnstown to highlight what he views as wasteful spending there.

Sixteen state juvenile prisons have been closed since 2007 by the Office of Children and Family Services. Two others are scheduled to close in January.

The state bills local governments for half of the cost of incarcerating children from their areas. Last year, for an average daily headcount of 569 offenders, the city was billed nearly $62 million, the mayor said.

Even though headcounts have dropped by two-thirds over the last decade, the total amount the city pays has increased because the per diem rates charged by the state include the costs of maintaining and staffing largely empty facilities. The mayor’s proposal, reported in The Daily News on Tuesday, also seeks a change to the rate structure.

Of the 25 facilities, 13 are more than half-empty. Last month, the city filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the state from charging it to maintain and staff underused facilities.

On Tuesday, the mayor promoted two city-run programs for young offenders that he said had shown low rates of recidivism and helped children return to their homes through intensive supervision and therapy.

“New York City has shown how to do far better ourselves,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “We have produced consistently better outcomes for young people in the juvenile justice system, far more cost-effectively.”

In a lawsuit filed last year, the Legal Aid Society contended that children in the state facilities were being physically restrained in inappropriate ways and that they were not receiving sufficient services.

Tamara Steckler, who leads the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights division, said the organization would support the mayor’s proposal.

“It makes sense at this point,” she said, “when New York City is willing to take this kid back within its own jurisdiction.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2010, on page A26 of the New York edition.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In memory Of The Young Adults Executed In The Us

( Note Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18.)

List of juvenile offenders executed in the United States
This is a list of juvenile offenders executed in the United States. This list consists of those people executed in the United States for crimes committed while they were juveniles (before reaching the age of majority). Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18. All of the 22 executed individuals were males. Twenty-one of them were age 17 when the crime occurred; one,
Sean Sellers (executed on February 4, 1999, in Oklahoma), was 16 years old at the time of his crime..

Since 1642, (in the Thirteen Colonies, the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and the current United States), an estimated 364 juvenile offenders have been put to death by states and the federal government. Twenty-two of those executions occurred after 1976. Due to the slow process of appeals since 1976, it has been highly unusual for a condemned person to actually be under the age of 18 at the time of execution. The youngest person to be executed in the 20th century was George Stinney, electrocuted in South Carolina at the age of fourteen on June 16, 1944. The youngest person ever to be sentenced to death in the United States was James Arcene, for his role in a robbery and murder committed when he was ten years old. He was, however, 23-years-old when he was actually executed on June 18, 1885.[1] The last execution of a juvenile may have been convicted murderer Leonard Shockley, who died in the Maryland gas chamber on April 10, 1959, at the age of 17. No one has been under the age of 19 at the time of execution since at least 1964.[2][3]

After the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the minimum age at time of crime to be subject to the death penalty is 18, thereby ending execution as a punishment for juvenile offenders. At the time of the Roper v. Simmons decision, there were 71 juvenile offenders awaiting execution on death row: 13 in Alabama; four in Arizona; three in Florida; two in Georgia; four in Louisiana; five in Mississippi; one in Nevada; four in North Carolina; two in Pennsylvania; three in South Carolina; 29 in Texas; and one in Virginia.
* NOTE The age when they died Is in The brackets() & The age they were at the time of the offense*

(1)September 11, 1985 Rumbaugh, Charles Francis Rumbaugh (28) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

(2)> January 10, 1986 James Terry Roach (25) 17 White Male South Carolina Electrocution

(3) 5May 15, 1986 Pinkerton, Jay Kelly (24) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injectio

(4) 05-18 1990 Prejean, Dalton " Prejean (30) 17 Black Male Louisiana Electrocution

(5) February 11, 1992 Johnny Frank Garrett (28) 17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

6)July 1, 1993 Curtis Paul Harris (31) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(7) 07-28July 28, 1993 Frederick Lasley (29) 17 Black Male Missouri Lethal injection

(8) August 24, 1993 Ruben Montoya Cantu (26) 17 Latino Male Texas Lethal injection

(9 December 7, 1993 Christopher Burger (33) 17 White Male Georgia

(10 )April 24, 1998 Joseph John Cannon (38 )17 White Male Texas Lethal injection

(11) May 18, 1998 Robert Anthony Carter (34) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(12) October 14, 1998 Dwayne Allen Wright (24) 17 Black Male Virginia Lethal injection
(13) February 4, 1999 Sellers,Sean Richard Sellers (29) 16 White Male Oklahoma Lethal injection

(14) January 10, 2000 Thomas, Douglas Christopher Thomas (26) 17 White Male Virginia Lethal injection

(15) January 13, 2000 Roach,Steve Edward Roach (23) 17 White Male Virginia Lethal injection

(16) January 25, 2000 McGinnis,Glen Charles McGinnis (27) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(17) June 22, 2000 Graham, Gary LeeGary Lee Graham (36 )17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(18) October 22, 2001 Mitchell,Gerald Lee Mitchell (33) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(19) May 28, 2002 Beazley, Napoleon Beazley (25) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(20) August 8, 2002 Jones, T. J. Jones (25) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(21) August 28, 2002 Toronto Markkey Patterson ( 24 ) 17 Black Male Texas Lethal injection

(22) April 3, 2003 Hain, Scott Allen Hain (32) 17 White Male Oklahoma Lethal injection

Retrieved from ""

Monday, December 6, 2010

12 And In Prison

12 and in Prison
Published: July 27, 2009
The Supreme Court sent an important message when it ruled in Roper v. Simmons in 2005 that children under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed were not eligible for the death penalty. Justice Anthony Kennedy drew on compassion, common sense and the science of the youthful brain when he wrote that it was morally wrong to equate the offenses of emotionally undeveloped adolescents with the offenses of fully formed adults.

*The states have followed this logic in death penalty cases. But they have continued to mete out barbaric treatment — including life sentences — to children whose cases should rightly be handled through the juvenile courts.

Congress can help to correct these practices by amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which is up for Congressional reauthorization this year. To get a share of delinquency prevention money, the law requires the states and localities to meet minimum federal protections for youths in the justice system. These protections are intended to keep as many youths as possible out of adult jails and prisons, and to segregate those that are sent to those places from the adult criminal population.

The case for tougher legislative action is laid out in an alarming new study of children 13 and under in the adult criminal justice system, the lead author of which is the juvenile justice scholar, Michele Deitch, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. According to the study, every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults, and more than 20 states permit preadolescent children as young as 7 to be tried in adult courts.

This is terrible public policy. Children who are convicted and sentenced as adults are much more likely to become violent offenders — and to return to an adult jail later on — than children tried in the juvenile justice system.

Despite these well-known risks, policy makers across the country do not have reliable data on just how many children are being shunted into the adult system by state statutes or prosecutors, who have the discretion to file cases in the adult courts.

But there is reasonably reliable data showing juvenile court judges send about 80 children ages 13 and under into the adult courts each year. These statistics explode the myth that those children have committed especially heinous acts.

The data suggest, for example, that children 13 and under who commit crimes like burglary and theft are just as likely to be sent to adult courts as children who commit serious acts of violence against people. As has been shown in previous studies, minority defendants are more likely to get adult treatment than their white counterparts who commit comparable offenses.

The study’s authors rightly call on lawmakers to enact laws that discourage harsh sentencing for preadolescent children and that enable them to be transferred back into the juvenile system. Beyond that, Congress (Should? Yet they have done nothing) amend the juvenile justice act to require the states to simply end these inhumane practices to be eligible for federal juvenile justice funds.> (NOTE) California has received Millions from the Federal Government for Juveniles & Programs> & Still are pushing more & more into Prison* " Gelly"


Police / Prosecution Misconduct

There are occasions where either police or prosecution misconduct are the cause of a person or persons spending large amounts of time in prison for crimes they have not committed.

Police and prosecution culture in Western Australia has been widely criticised throughout Australia after a number of cases revealed that some police and or prosecutors had acted improperly in a number of high profile cases which were eventually overturned ;after it had been found that police and prosecutors had acted improperly in order to sustain a conviction.

Misconduct can assume many forms such as:

Prosecution material non-disclosure: By law the prosecution has to provide the accused with all materials that are relevant to the case. This includes evidence that may help prove the accused innocence.

Material non-disclosure is when the prosecution fails to give the accused evidence which would assist in their defence. This does not allow the jury to consider the evidence which may be favourable to the accused and can mislead juries into believing that an accused is guilty when there is evidence to establish he or she is not.

Police misconduct and overzealous investigations
Over-zealous police conduct is recognised as a major contributing factor leading to miscarriages of justice.

Some examples of what kind of conduct this would include is police officers deliberately distorting a witness’s statement to suit prosecutions hypothesis, coercing a confession from a suspect, and ignoring or destroying evidence that helps to establish the accused is innocent.

It seems that the police and prosecutors that engage in this type of behaviour often appear to engage in such conduct because they strongly believe the suspect is guilty *

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Martin is a Juvenile and Mexican Citizen on Arizona's Death Row

. Martin is a Juvenile and Mexican Citizen on Arizona's Death Row, for more information on his case
visit his webpage at:

Martin R. Soto-Fong #103247
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

Christopher 17 And Sentenced To Arizona's Death Row

Arizona's attempt to censor websites of prisoner advocacy groups like ours, we have committed to ensuring all Arizona Death Row prisoners have a voice on the internet and the opportunity to be contacted by human rights groups and activists. Let Arizona's condemned prisoners know they have not been forgotten, with your words of encouragement and support. Christopher Huerstel was only 17 years of age at the time of the crime which landed him on death row, for more information on his case visit his webpage at:
Please write to:

Christopher Huerstel #157704
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

17 And Sentenced To Arizona's Death Row

Arizona's attempt to censor websites of prisoner advocacy groups like ours, we have committed to ensuring all Arizona Death Row prisoners have a voice on the internet and the opportunity to be contacted by human rights groups and activists. Let Arizona's condemned prisoners know they have not been forgotten, with your words of encouragement and support. Christopher Huerstel was only 17 years of age at the time of the crime which landed him on death row, for more information on his case visit his webpage at:
Please write to:

Christopher Huerstel #157704
Arizona State Prison - Eyman
PO Box 3400
Florence, Arizona 85232

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Critics time after time protest that the juvenile waiver system is neither fair nor consistently administered. The vast majority of evidence on this topic supports the protests of these critics. To begin, there are two ways to decide whether or not a juvenile should be waived into adult court. In accordance with a criminal court point of view, punishment is the main concern, the seriousness of the offense and length of the offender's record then decides whether or not they are waived into adult court. When taking the view point of the juvenile court that rehabilitation is the main objective then the offender's amenability to treatment, dangerousness, and future welfare are taken into consideration as to waiving them into adult court. Those in favor of the juvenile court claim that the juvenile court is consistent with the sentencing philosophy of that particular court and that individualized treatments provide a suitable balance of flexibility and severity. For those who agree with the criminal court, the argument is that the juvenile court lacks valid and reliable clinical tools to assess amenability to treat or to predict potential danger. They also bring attention to the abuses that could arise when a judge uses discretion as to which youths will be waived and which shall not.

When deciding whether a juvenile should be waived a judge will usually look at the offender's age, amount of time left for treatment, clinical evaluations of treatment prognosis, probation officer statements, the need to protect the community, whether the offense was committed against a person or property, and threat to others reflected in the seriousness of the current offense and prior record before deciding whether or not to waive him or her through to the adult system (Podkopacz & Feld, 1996). Psychologists will evaluate offenders based on age of onset of serious violent offending and of delinquent behavior, truancy, experiences with physical or sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence or violence in the community, network of social support, presence of non-violent role model, school performance, and willingness to rehabilitate; these findings are then sent to the court to assist the judge in deciding whether or not to waive a juvenile into adult court (Gelles, 1997). The main concern critics of the waiver system have is the problematic and controversial way in which judges will decide which juveniles should be waived and which should not. (NOTE) When The Prosecutor
has the ability to direct file, the juvenile judges do not hear or decide a juveniles fate in court. )
youths are cognitively and emotionally less mature than adults, they tend to live for the moment and are characterized by showing poor judgment, having the attitude of invincibility, having difficulty thinking of the long-term consequences of their actions, and being easily influenced by peers (American, 2000). This is the main reason why, in 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Thomson v. Oklahoma that the 8th amendment prohibited the execution of persons under the age of 16 at the time the offense was committed. However, "the United States remains the only country in the world that has not yet ratified the UN Convention, Articl e 37a, which states that 'Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age'" (Juvenile, 2005). When a juvenile enters an adult hearing they are less able to exercise their rights and to understand the court proceedings. While in an adult correctional facility they are routinely denied educational opportunities and are subject to abuse. However, juveniles are kept in a different part of the correctional facility while they are still a minor. An adult sentence is viewed as disproportionately harsh destroying the adolescent years of a young person's life and in some cases their prospects of a life after prison.
*Youths who do emerge from an adult correctional facility at a reasonably young age have had the opportunity to not only be exposed to career criminals but to learn from them and better their own skills in order to become more successful career criminals themselves (Podkopacz & Feld, 1996)
*The option to waive juveniles into adult court should not be eliminated from the juvenile court system. However, it should be modified. Just like prison is the last resort to deal with crime, waiver should be the last resort to deal with juvenile delinquency and status offenders. Considering the wide range of placement options, including training schools, ranches and camps, halfway houses, and shelters, judges should only have to waive juveniles into adult court in the most serious of cases (Levit, 1998).
("blended sentencing" practice that was first attempted by Minnesota. With this system, the juvenile stays in the juvenile court system but along with his juvenile sentence he also receives a criminal court sentence. Upon failure to adhere to the rules of the juvenile sentence the criminal sentence is automatically instated (Podkopacz & Feld, 2001). This is the best alternative to the waiver system because in the end it achieves the same goal but in a much more focused fashion. With this method, juveniles who would have benefited by the ordinary juvenile sentence still do, when they complete the steps of their juvenile sentence after an evaluation the criminal sentence is dropped and they exit the juvenile system. For juveniles who need a longer or more severe sentence than the juvenile system can provide they either violate some aspect of their juvenile sentence and thus have to carry out their criminal sentence or after completion of the juvenile sentence are evaluated and then given their criminal sentence to complete after the evaluation shows that they are not yet rehabilitated. Juveniles, who may have defaulted on a juvenile sentence, if they had received it without the criminal sentence, may think twice before doing so, when they know that a tougher criminal sentence is waiting for them. This waiver alternative can be viewed as a middle step between the juvenile court and the adult court, having this middle step available to the judge will help more juveniles be properly placed in a treatment program that is going to actually help them. This system also gives the juvenile all the procedural rights guaranteed to adults and thus results in more juveniles being properly represented throughout their journey through the correctional system.

The waiver system is neither fair nor consistent and is applied on the discretion of the prosecutor and judge handling the case. Some judges view waiver as a last resort while other judges view waiver has the best possible way to deal with a trouble making juvenile. Personal bias also comes into play when a judge decides to waive a juvenile into the adult court. Since the main objective of the adult correctional system is incapacitation and the main objective of the juvenile correctional system is rehabilitation
This option should exist, but only should be used in the most extreme of circumstances. Such as when the juvenile's or public's safety is in immediate damage, or when the youth is so far from reach that a rehabilitation program would foster absolutely no results.

Juvenile and Adult Courts: A Comparative Analysis

There are critics of the juvenile system who feel that all cases regardless of age should be

dealt with in the adult criminal courts. This would mean complete abolishment of the juvenile

court system. (Criminal Justice Magazine)The talk about abolishing delinquency, as well as the

juvenile court system has people split. The problem exists because both sides cannot agree

on what the actual problem is. Some people are prone to believe that the solution lies

within the abolishment of the juvenile courts. The other people believe that the solution is to

abolish juvenile delinquency. However this is far easier said than done. (Criminal Justice

Magazine) The problem is more complex than people realize.

The problem with the idea of abolishing the juvenile court system is that it would be a long

drawn out process. This would severely impede justice from being served in a timely manner.

If society decides as whole to transition all of the juvenile cases to the adult or "criminal"

court, there needs to be an intricate replacement plan in place. There would be complete

chaos in the judicial system if there were no replacement plan intact. This would include

having a unified system. The former juvenile judges would need to step into deal with the now

criminal cases. The enormous transition to abolish all juvenile cases would create a large influx

of adult correctional needs. The need for more probation and parole officers, and

correctional facilities would become an emergent need. The truth of the matter is that

juveniles are currently best served under their own court system.

While the thought of this being a simple and imperative transition is a noble idea on paper, it

would actually be a complex and cumbersome solution. This transition would not happen in a

short period of time. It would not address the real issue at stake. The real issue is allowing

the judges to "quickly and decisively intervene" in these juvenile cases. (Criminal Justice

Magazine) This is important is because juveniles must be held accountable for their actions. It

is imperative that they are not prosecuted in a wrongful manner.
JANESVILLE — Rock County teen looking to get high lose his life to a pocket full of painkillers?

Brown, 14, admitted the deed in court Thursday. She will spend five years in the custody of the state, up to three of those years incarcerated.

That’s the maximum sentence allowed in Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system.

State law required Brown be charged as an adult.

In court Thursday, both of Brown’s attorneys and prosecutors recommended the case be moved to juvenile court. Judge Michael Fitzpatrick agreed Thursday morning.

Brown, with a long history of juvenile offenses and drug and alcohol abuse, needs treatment that is not available in the adult system, the attorneys and judge agreed.

Thursday afternoon, Brown waived her right to a trial in juvenile court on the charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Judge Alan Bates ruled Brown should get the maximum penalty.

Assistant district attorney Dan Niedfeldt said he was satisfied the sentence holds Brown accountable while allowing her treatment for serious personal issues.

One of those issues is the fact that Ashlee saw her younger brother killed by a car as he rode his Big Wheel six years ago, said defense attorney Barbara Gerber.

Because of that, Brown’s family can relate to the pain felt by Alex Aiken’s family, Gerber said.

Brown understands what she did and knows she must pay the consequences, Gerber said.

Brown sat quietly for most of both hearings, wearing prison garb and ankle chains. Her only sounds were timid-sounding one-word responses to the judges’ questions.

“She wants to change her life,” Gerber said. “She wants to better herself, get treatment for drugs and alcohol and counseling for issues around the death of her brother.”

Bates said the sentence does what the Legislature has commanded the juvenile courts to do: protect the community, make violators accountable and help the violators get treatment to better their lives.

A cruel prosecution of a troubled child

A cruel prosecution of a troubled child
Tuesday, June 19, 2007


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- In any other legal context, he would have been called "Christopher", or "Chris," or "the child" or the "the boy."

Last Monday, however, when the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and 30 year jail term in an adult prison, its lengthy opinion referred to him only as "Pittman," his last name, just as it would have if, on that tragic day six years ago, he had been a full-fledged adult instead of a psychiatrically-impaired 12- year-old-child.

Christopher Pittman came to live with his beloved paternal grandparents after his chaotic home life in Florida drove him to attempt suicide, an act that led to his commitment to a psychiatric facility. Upon his release, a South Carolina physician switched his medication to Zoloft, an antidepressant not recommended for use by children.

According to two highly qualified expert witnesses who testified at his trial, Christopher was "involuntarily intoxicated" on Zoloft and exhibiting psychotic features when he shot his grandparents to death in their bed on Nov. 28, 2001.

Christopher was taken into custody by Deputy Lucinda McKellar who, after informing him of his Miranda rights, induced the isolated little boy to purportedly waive his constitutional rights and confess to the killings. Incredibly, there was no recording made of the interrogation.

The ensuing murder charges against Christopher could have been heard in Family Court, a salutary, confidential forum whose focus would have been on providing him with the rehabilitative services he desperately needed.

Unfortunately, but all too typically these days, yahoo prosecutors were utterly indifferent to the child's plight.

So they vigorously objected to the Family Court's adjudicating the case just as they vehemently opposed a defense request that reasonable bail be set. Lacking the judicial courage required in this terrible time for America's kids, the court sided with prosecutors on both matters.

Christopher thus remained in custody for well over three years before being brought to trial, an unconscionable delay.

After the jury convicted him -- a result that should have surprised nobody --Christopher's aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims, told the presiding judge that her mother and father would have been pleading on Christopher's behalf because "That was not my nephew that night. He was a good kid."

Under South Carolina law, however, the mandatory minimum sentence was 30 years in jail and that was the sentence meted out by the court for the psychiatrically induced, totally-out-of-character behavior of an emotionally disturbed 12-year-old child.


While the outcome here wreaks of institutional evil, legal options remain for Christopher. Most intriguing is an application to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. While only a tiny fraction of such requests are granted, there are aspects of Christopher's case that just might entice the court to entertain the appeal.

For example, it's been 40 years since the Supreme Court addressed a case involving multi-faceted juvenile justice issues. When Matter of Gault was decided in 1967, kids in their middle teens were routinely tried in juvenile courts even for the most serious felonies.

Because juvenile proceedings often lacked the formality of adult criminal actions, the Supreme Court enunciated the minimum constitutional rights to which youngsters were entitled in juvenile courts.

Today, in sharp contrast, with very young children being senselessly prosecuted in adult courts, the time is ripe for the Supreme Court to address the issues raised by this ugly new landscape.

For example, the court might well be persuaded that a 12-year-old is too young to fully understand or effectively waive his constitutional rights, especially with the looming specter of lengthy jail terms in adult prisons.

If so, the court could provide children with a measure of protection against police and prosecutorial abuse by holding a child's confession inadmissible unless given in the presence of a parent or guardian who has also been informed of the youngster's Miranda rights.

In addition, employing the same reasoning it used in striking down the death penalty for juveniles, the court might also be ready to declare that mandatory jail terms for children are unconstitutional given the now scientifically documented immaturity of the adolescent brain.

If the Supreme Court does agree to hear Christopher's appeal, these and a few other arguments raised in his defense would likely resonate well with Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. That would leave the outcome up to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a philosophical moderate, who, incidentally, provided the pivotal fifth vote in the court's 2005 ruling banning the execution of juveniles.

The barbaric brutalization of Christopher Pittman by the State of South Carolina will stink in the annals of history. How supremely gratifying it would be if his case turns out to be the one that brings about desperately needed reforms from the nation's highest court.

Daniel Leddy's On The Law column appears each Tuesday on the Advance Op-Ed Page. His e-mail address is

Boy's life sacrificed on the altar of politics?
Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Indeed, the fate of the boy who was 12 years old and weighed a mere 100 pounds on a fateful evening in November, 2001 may well depend on whether the judges notice the gigantic pachyderm standing right smack in front of him.

Christopher's mother abandoned the boy shortly after he was born, consigning the child and his sister to an unstable home life populated by an overbearing father and a succession of disappearing stepmothers. The boy did, however, have an especially close bond with his paternal grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, who lived near the family's home in Florida.

In the summer of 2001, Christopher's mother suddenly reappeared in his young life. Being just a little boy, Christopher didn't understand that a mother who summarily discards her child isn't a good candidate for spontaneous redemption. So, he naively chose to believe that a new life awaited the family, a child-like profession of faith for which she promptly rewarded him by taking off once again.

His dreams of normalcy shattered, the devastated boy was overtaken by a deep depression. After threatening to kill himself, Christopher was committed to a psychiatric facility.

Upon being released to the custody of his grandparents, Christopher was prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant not recommended for use by children. From the outset, the youngster suffered severe negative reactions to the powerful drug, culminating in the tragic events of Nov. 28, 2001 when he shot and killed both of his beloved grandparents while they were sleeping in their home.


When Lucinda Mckeller of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division eventually took Christopher into custody, she told the isolated, distraught and thoroughly defenseless child to call her "Lucy" and then proceeded to extract a "confession" out of him -- written by her own hand and featuring lofty adult language -- wherein he purported to admit to having killed because his grandfather had been physically abusive to him.

Incredibly, Mckeller not only assumed that this child fully understood his Miranda rights but voluntarily waived them. In fact, she didn't even accord the boy the safeguard of recording the interrogation.

Prosecutors seized upon the confession to indulge in the popular, albeit counterintuitive notion, that little children leapfrog into adulthood by doing particularly bad things. Thus, Christopher was tried in the Charleston Circuit Court and convicted of two counts of murder by a South Carolina jury in February of last year.

This, despite compelling testimony from highly credentialed expert witnesses that Christopher was under the profound influence of Zoloft's alarming effects at the time of the incident and unable to resist the drug's command hallucination to kill.

Thereafter, Judge Daniel Pieper, brushing aside evidence of serious jury misconduct and a compelling argument that the prescribed mandatory sentence was unconstitutional, sentenced Christopher to an adult prison for a minimum term of 30 years. These are among the several issues that the Supreme Court will consider this Thursday.


Most intriguing, however, is an argument posited on a provision of South Carolina law that a child between the ages of 7 and 14 is presumed to be incapable of having the mental capacity to commit a crime. The prosecution can, however, rebut the presumption by presenting appropriate evidence that a particular child between those ages does possess the capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution produced no expert testimony as to Christopher's criminal capacity on its direct case. After the state rested, however, the defense made only a general motion for dismissal without specifically citing the prosecution's failure to establish Christopher's mental capacity to commit a crime.

The prosecution now argues that the defense thereby waived the argument on appeal. The defense counters that its general motion to dismiss was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review. While this critical issue should have been specifically raised by the defense after the state rested its case, the defense's general motion was probably sufficient to raise the matter on appeal given the enormous stakes involved.

That brings us back to the 10-ton elephant stalking the halls of justice down in Charleston. Christopher was 12 when he killed his grandparents. If this young child is an adult, the 16-year-old page to whom a Florida congressman sent suggestive e-mails must be a senior citizen. Why such concern for his well-being?

Why can't Christopher and others like him vote, sit on juries, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, enlist in the military, skip school, hold public office or drive automobiles? Why is society so committed to preventing child abuse on the one hand while fostering it by sending little children to be beaten, brutalized and sexually accosted by hardened adult prisoners?

When Christopher Pittman killed his grandparents, he was a child and not an adult. No prosecution however persuasive, no legal fiction however indulged, no rationale however twisted, and no political agenda, however morally bankrupt, can change that -- ever.

That is the 10- ton elephant that will position itself before the judges of the South Carolina Supreme Court this Thursday. If they see the prodigious creature, their decision will write itself and Christopher Pittman's agonizing five year ordeal will be over.

Daniel Leddy's On The Law column appears each Tuesday on the Advance Op-Ed Page. His e-mail address is

Judge Daniel Leddy, NY Family Court

Monday, June 06, 2005

Trial jurors are routinely given explicit instructions by the court which they are required by law to obey. Those who fail to do so subvert justice by denying the respective litigants their right to a fair trial. Nevertheless, jurors who misbehave are too often treated with kid gloves, receiving little more than tepid expressions of displeasure from the court. This is unfortunate because the integrity of our judicial system demands that they be held fully accountable for breaching their oaths as jurors.

Charged as an adult with murder by South Carolina for killing his grandparents when he was 12 years old, the last thing Christopher Pittman needed was a trial jury that didn't play by the rules. That, however, is exactly what he got.

Despite the testimony of two highly qualified psychiatrists that Christopher was "involuntarily intoxicated" on Zoloft on the night in question, the jury implausibly found him guilty. Soon thereafter, evidence of serious jury misconduct surfaced.

One juror admitted to having discussed the case with a bartender during a break in deliberations. The bartender recalled that the juror had expressed his belief that Christopher was guilty. The same juror also admitted to having spoken with his wife about the case.

Jurors are repeatedly warned by the court not to discuss the case with anybody except fellow jurors, and only then during deliberations.

They are also advised not to form any opinion about the guilt or innocence of a defendant until they hear all the evidence and receive the judge's instructions on the law.

Jurors are further instructed that, during deliberations, they should keep an open mind, and carefully evaluate the opinions and arguments of their fellow jurors.

By discussing the case with his wife and a bartender, and expressing his belief that Christopher was guilty, this juror flagrantly disregarded the court's instructions, violated his oath, and sabotaged the child's right to a fair trial.


But there was more. Two other jurors testified that they didn't really believe that Christopher was guilty, and that they were coerced into voting for conviction by other jurors. This, they maintained, came about because they were led to believe that a majority vote was sufficient for conviction. Since the majority of the jurors wanted to convict, they mistakenly thought that they had to acquiesce in the guilty verdict.

Regardless of whether this serious misunderstanding of the law came about from inadequate instructions by the court, or undue coercion by the other jurors, it is clear that the two dissenting jurors did not render true verdicts according to their conscience.

Despite this, Judge Daniel Pieper last month denied a defense motion for a new trial, concluding that the revelations were not sufficiently serious to even warrant further review. Though poorly reasoned, the decision was typical of Pieper who has marched in lockstep with prosecutors throughout their mindless vendetta against a very vulnerable little boy.

Consider that while Pieper decided that no remedial relief should be accorded Christopher, he specifically ordered that the identity of the juror who discussed the case with his wife and the bartender be protected. In other words, he gave the blabbing juror a pass and the little boy 30 years in an adult prison.

As another case over which he presided well illustrates, Pieper embraces double standards with as much gusto as he emboldens prosecutors who seek to make a name for themselves by ruthlessly ruining the life of a mere child.

Last year, a South Carolina man, Frederick Ravenell, 42, was charged with murder in the shooting death of his younger brother. Prosecutors from the same county that handled Christopher's case consented to have the charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter at the urging of family members. When the matter appeared before Pieper for sentencing, he placed Ravenell on probation for two years.

At Christopher's sentencing, his aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims, begged Pieper for leniency, declaring that her parents would most assuredly be asking for mercy for their grandson.

Although South Carolina does have a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years for murder, the defense gave Pieper a solid legal rationale for refusing to apply it. Pieper, however, sided with prosecutors and sent Christopher to an adult penitentiary for the full 30 years.

As Christopher's case now moves to South Carolina's appellate courts, this sorry miscarriage of justice should be indelibly affixed to Pieper's reputation for as long as the children of his state are unfortunate enough to have him on the bench.

By: Judge Daniel Leddy (Family Court Judge NY)

Monday, February 21, 2005

After deliberating less than seven hours, a jury in Charleston, S.C., last week convicted Christopher Pittman of murdering his grandparents three years ago when he was 12 years of age.

Although there were none of his peers on the jury because the law deems them too young to serve, the empanelled jurors proved conclusively that adulthood doesn't necessarily herald the advent of intelligence or even common sense. Thus, they rejected the testimony of two highly credentialed psychiatrists that Christopher's actions were the result of his being involuntarily intoxicated on Zoloft, an anti-depressant medication prescribed after he had attempted suicide.

As it turned out, justice would have been better served with a jury of kids because these 12 adults couldn't recognize reasonable doubt if it hit them in the head with a two-by-four.

At the sentencing, lead defense attorney Andy Vickery asked Judge Daniel Pieper to declare South Carolina's mandatory minimum 30-year-jail term unconstitutional insofar as it applied to children. Also urging leniency for Christopher was his aunt, Melinda Pittman Rector, whose parents were the deceased victims.

She told the court that both her mother and father would be begging for mercy for Christopher if they were alive. Referring to the boy's state of mind at the time of the incident, she declared, "That was not my nephew that night. He's a good kid."

Pieper initially sounded sympathetic, labeling the case "tragic" for the entire family, and even adding that it "called attention to the very core values of this society about the treatment of juveniles and punishment."

Then, however, establishing that black robes do not bestow courage in the face of an angry society, Pieper claimed that he was bound by the law as written, and summarily sentenced Christopher to 30 years in jail.

If the law is unconstitutional, however, he certainly wasn't bound to follow it.

In fact, he was affirmatively bound not to follow it, a fact that Pieper knows full well. After sandbagging Christopher with an act of rank judicial cowardice, Pieper could manage nothing better than a mindless "Good luck to you."

The irony is that Christopher's already bad luck as a mentally ill child escalated the moment his case arrived in Pieper's courtroom.


If Pieper had really wanted to do justice in this case, he would have granted the defense's request that it be handled in the Family Court. In that forum, far from the glare of intense media scrutiny, Christopher and his family could have gotten the help they so desperately need without compromising the community's legitimate right to protection.

The proposition that juvenile courts are incapable of adequately protecting the public in cases of serious wrongdoing is an oft-repeated lie spread by politicians willing to sacrifice a kid's entire life for a fleeting bump in public opinion polls.

You may be surprised to know that, in many cases, kids appearing in juvenile courts can be confined for substantially longer periods of time than similarly charged adults in criminal courts. The trade-off is that kids found by juvenile courts to have broken the law are placed in facilities designed to rehabilitate rather than punish them

Generally, the initial term for which a child is placed by a juvenile court can be extended upon a showing that he needs additional treatment. Extensive reports from case workers, mental health officials and probation departments aid the court in reaching an appropriate decision.

Yes, juvenile courts can make mistakes, but so can adult courts.

In Christopher Pittman's case, they made a whopper, solidifying the boy's place right next to his grandparents as the third victim.

Children who break the law are treated more harshly today than at any other time in American history, including the Colonial era. That's a cold, hard fact. It's also a pretty lousy commentary on our character as a people.

The most depressing aspect, however, is the absence of any significant movement to reform the laws. Neither of the major political parties seem the least bit interested.

For the most part, Republicans were in the forefront of the campaign to try children as adults, and aren't about to undo what they've callously crafted into political capital. And for all their boasts about being the champions of the downtrodden, none of this could have happened without the acquiescence of the Democrats.

Christopher Pittman's eminently redeemable life has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. What a damning indictment of our time on earth.

By: Judge Daniel Leddy (Family Court Judge NY)
Monday, May 09, 2005

Justice for Juveniles is a grass-roots organization that is campaigning to change the barbaric manner in which this country treats children accused of serious crimes.

The group properly characterizes the prosecution of these youngsters in adult criminal courts and the imposition of lengthy prison terms in adult penitentiaries as state sanctioned child abuse.

It has taken up the cause of several children victimized by this grotesque handiwork of unprincipled politicians, cowardly judges, ambitious prosecutors and an apathetic public unwilling to demand an end to the insanity.
Justice for Juveniles has currently posted a petition to the South Carolina legislature on its website in support of "Christopher's Bill," a measure that would significantly reform the way in which accused children are treated in that state and serve as a prototype for similar reforms in other jurisdictions.

It is named for Christopher Pittman, who was convicted by a South Carolina jury in February of murdering his grandparents when he was 12 years of age and intoxicated on Zoloft, an anti-depressant prescribed for him after he had attempted suicide.

Judge Daniel Pieper, who had previously denied a defense motion to have the case heard in Family Court, where it clearly belonged, sentenced the young boy to 30 years in an adult jail.

Thereafter, Christopher's attorneys asked Pieper to reduce the sentence to a term that would expire when the boy becomes 21 years of age. In support of the motion, they cited language from Roper v. Simmons, the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court striking down the death penalty for those under the age of 18 when they commit their crimes.

In deciding that executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court noted that juveniles lack the maturity of adults while offering a far better prospect for rehabilitation.

Christopher's attorneys argued persuasively that the same rationale militates against decimating children's lives by sentencing them to long terms in adult jails. Pieper, however, refused to stick his judicial neck out to blaze a new legal frontier on Christopher's behalf. Instead, he opted to preside over the ruination of a child's life with nary a whimper.

The case for using the language of the Roper decision to reduce Christopher's sentence is bolstered by the fact that society recognizes the practical impact of children's immaturity in numerous ways.

Among other restrictions, they can't vote, sit on juries, hold public office, consent to sexual relationships, or purchase alcohol or tobacco.

At the same time, they can be prosecuted for non-criminal conduct such as refusing to attend school, and disobeying their parents. Against these realities, the practice of prosecuting children as adults is blisteringly hypocritical.


It's a point I've made in previous columns and in discussions with people at seminars, public gatherings, and private meetings. Yet, I've never met a single person who has even attempted to reconcile the age-appropriate manner in which kids are treated generally with the naked meanness that has hijacked the juvenile justice system.

To me, this can only be explained by a general recognition among thinking people that this bizarre disparity in treatment is absolutely indefensible. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into the public pressure necessary to get politicians to turn a deaf ear to the beer-belching yahoos and their simplistic law and order blabber.

"Christopher's Bill" contains a number of sensible reforms that would restore the integrity of the juvenile justice system without compromising the safety of the community. One of its key provisions would exempt any person under 14 years of age from mandatory sentencing laws and require that they be at least eligible for parole or release when they become 21 years old.

The proposal would also require law enforcement officials to advise children under the age of 14 of their constitutional rights in the presence of an attorney or guardian and permit questioning only when such adults are present. This provision recognizes the obvious -- yet routinely ignored -- reality that a child is no match for veteran police interrogators.

To provide relief for Christopher and others similarly situated, the bill would be retroactive for 10 years.

Getting South Carolina or any other state to reform its juvenile justice system is going to be extraordinarily difficult. While it is comforting that Justice for Juveniles and other like-minded organizations are waging the good fight, they could definitely use the help of some powerful politicians.

As of now, at least, the silence is both deafening and disgusting.

Judge Daniel Leddy/Family Court Judge NY

Monday, June 13, 2005

Most parents are certain that it won't happen to their child. They figure that police, prosecutors and courts are for other people's kids, the ones from bad homes who were never taught right from wrong. It's a dangerous naiveté that carries a very high price tag. For while responsible parents strive diligently to prepare their children for every contingency, they leave them woefully unprepared for the seemingly unthinkable possibility of being arrested.

Countless unsuspecting children find themselves in precisely that traumatic situation every day. When stunned parents are notified by the police, they have absolutely no idea how bad things could really get even where the charge is of a minor nature and will be handled in Family Court. They don't anticipate finding themselves in a desperate, agonizing struggle to salvage their child's future. And they certainly can't be expected to know that the worst place in the state to be prosecuted in the Family Court is right here in New York City.

When the New York State Family Court came into existence in 1962, it handled every type of charge filed against youngsters under the age of 16, including murder. Through the years, however, the power of the Family Court has been whittled away by political blowhards in Albany trying to portray themselves as tough-as-nails on juvenile crime. As a result of a succession of mean-spirited, knee-jerk legislative initiatives, children are now tried in adult courts for several kinds of crimes.

Even though the Family Court generally handles only lesser offenses today, juvenile delinquency proceedings in the five boroughs often generate an intensity approximating the trial of major felonies in the adult system. A far cry from what the Family Court was supposed to be, this is a very unsettling reality.


The case against accused juveniles in the Family Court is handled by attorneys from the New York City Corporation Counsel's Office. They are not elected officials nor are they even technically prosecutors, although their function is similar and they clearly relish the label.

When drawing up charges against a child, these attorneys don't hold anything back. If a simple offense could theoretically support 10 different charges, you can bet the ranch that the child is going to get hit with all ten. They persist in this hard-nosed attitude throughout the entire proceeding, from arraignment to disposition. However much they try to justify this approach as furthering the interests of the community at large, it remains fundamentally inconsistent with the historic mandate of the Family Court to rehabilitate wayward kids in the least restrictive manner. Besides, when a child is successfully rehabilitated, the community profits.

One argument that attorneys from the Corporation Counsel's office make in defense of their handling of juvenile delinquency cases does have some merit. They point out that the great majority of children charged in Family Court are represented very aggressively by the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society. Unless they are equally aggressive in prosecuting cases, they argue, the defense will run roughshod over them, and potentially dangerous children might be cut loose without regard for the public safety.

It's true that Legal Aid attorneys provide tenacious representation for their young clients. Their goal is to get the delinquency charges dismissed, however much the accused child might actually need treatment or confinement. Nobody is suggesting, however, that the attorneys from the Corporation Counsel's office should roll over for them.

On the contrary, they have an important role to fulfill and they should fulfill it well. That does not translate, however, into a license to denigrate the needs of the child as a matter of course.

Children accused of wrongdoing in the Family Court in New York City have only one real hope of escaping the consequences of what juvenile delinquency proceedings have become. Judges have to take the initiative to try to resolve these cases in their earliest stages. Those who passively sit back and hope that the opposing attorneys will work out a deal on their own are missing a golden opportunity to shield a child from unnecessary anguish. In other words, they are not doing their job.

Finally, parents should disabuse themselves of the notion that none of this has any relevance to them. They must understand that juvenile delinquency proceedings are extremely serious and could result in their child's being taken away from them for several years. Moreover, there are attorneys at the courthouse who might well be pushing for exactly that to happen.