Delaware Public Media

Juvenile Justice initiatives hit General Assembly

May 14, 2017

The Public Defender’s office is teaming up with House Democrats to loosen laws surrounding the juvenile justice system.

Lawmakers introduced a package of four bills this past week that would give judges more discretion in cases, ensure kids have a lawyer and keep their mug shots private.

Right now, five charges automatically force minors to be treated as adults in court.

 

If a kid has a deadly weapon or gun while committing a felony, wears body armor during a felony, makes a bomb or riots, their case goes to Superior Court instead of Family Court.

 

Lisa Minutola, Chief of Legal Services for the PD’s office, says that choice should be in the hands of a judge.

 

“Instead of the judge, who is the impartial decision maker who makes all the other decisions related to the case, making that decision, it’s made by the prosecutor and their charging decision in a case,” Minutola said.

 

Another bill would prevent police from revealing a suspect’s name or mug shot if they’re younger than 16. Right now, they can post that information online if they’re 13 or older.

 

“What is harmful is if that child is eventually acquitted or the charges are dropped or if they get an expungement later on, on the internet it lives forever,” Minutola said.

 

Another would make it harder for juveniles to waive their right to a lawyer if they're younger than 16. Family Court already implemented rules surrounding a juvenile's right to counsel, but Minutola says it's important to include it in state code.

Finally, minors caught with drug paraphernalia could go through a community service program to avoid a criminal record. The proposal would also let someone undergo the program for a second time if they're charged with a different offense a year an a half prior to the new charges.

None of the four bills have Republican sponsors.

They're all awaiting committee hearings.