The Office of
Defense Services

Celebrating Gault by advancing juvenile justice

This week Gov. John Carney signed a proclamation celebrating the 50th Anniversary of In re Gault.

The Office of Defense Services, along with House Democrats, introduced a series of juvenile justice reform bills that will help kids touched by the criminal justice system have a chance of leading successful lives. The package’s introduction comes as the legal community celebrates the 50th anniversary of In re: Gault, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that guarantees kids have the same due process rights as adults.

We here at ODS, which represents all kids charged with crimes, know that criminal charges and delinquent adjudications can have long-lasting impacts on a kid’s educational, employment, and housing opportunities. The four bills introduced by Democrats last week give Delaware’s kids a chance to put their youthful indiscretions behind them and proceed onto adulthood.

“Delaware’s at-risk children need to know that there is a way to break the perpetual cycle of crime and incarceration,” said Lisa Minutola, Chief of Legal Services for Delaware’s Office of Defense Services. “These bills will enable the juvenile justice system to treat children fairly and appropriately while still achieving the goals of rehabilitation and accountability. This package will allow these youth to start fresh and find a path towards a better future.”

House Bill 6, sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, codifies a juvenile’s right to counsel in Family Court delinquency proceedings as well as describing the process by which he or she can waive the right to counsel.

Delaware’s civil citation program, which is administered by the state’s Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, would be expanded under House Bill 8. Sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, House Bill 8, would amend the program to add possession of marijuana paraphernalia to the list of offenses that trigger a citation, and allow a juvenile to be issued a second citation if the additional offense was not the same, and more than 18 months have elapsed since the first transgression.

Even if a young adult’s record has been cleared of a criminal charge, their mug shot and name have the potential to live on the internet. House Bill 7, sponsored by Rep. Sean M. Lynn, raises the age at which a juvenile’s information and photo could be released by the state and addresses etiquette for publicly-managed social media pages. The amended language does not apply to children who face charges as an adult in Superior Court.

House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. J.J. Johnson, updates existing state law to allow Superior Court judges to have discretion to consider transferring certain youth age 15 or older who are initially charged as an adult back to Delaware’s Family Court system for final resolution and rehabilitative services when warranted. Those offenses include rioting and wearing body armor during the commission of a felony.

House Bills 6, 7, 8 and 9 were introduced last week and will be in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

A roundtable discussion about the present state of juvenile justice reform and how we proceed from here is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Legislative Hall.

Excerpts from a House Democrats press release was used in this post.