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Category Archives: Constitutional Rights
One of the great misconceptions in American society is that we hold an unalienable right to speech free from any consequence. Free speech is, however, a much more complicated topic. The First Amendment only guarantees that the government won’t infringe on your right to express yourself. It doesn’t mean that private citizens can’t discriminate against […]
School officials have wide discretion in regulating their students, but schools may only regulate students as may be reasonably necessary to enable teachers to perform their duties. Students are subject to a greater degree of control than adults because public schools have a custodial and tutorial authority over and responsibility to the students. This includes a responsibility for the discipline, health, and safety of the students. There are no state or federal statutes that cover drug testing of students in school.
Student testing is subject to the limitations of the Fourth Amendment prohibiting the state from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures (New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985)). But students can be required to take random drug tests in certain situations. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools may subject students to random drug testing as a condition of participation in school sports and other extracurricular activities (Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 536 U.S. 522 (2002)). Such tests are considered a “reasonable means” of preventing and deterring student drug use in a manner that does not violate the Fourth Amendment. A school does not need a “reasonable suspicion” or evidence of a drug abuse problem in order to conduct a drug testing program for extracurricular participation.
In a previous cases, the Court had ruled that a search that is unsupported by probable cause and conducted without a warrant can be constitutional “when special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable cause requirement impracticable” (Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, 873 (1987); Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 115 S. Ct. 2386 (1995)).
In Vernonia, the Court ruled that such “special needs” exist in the public school context. The six-judge Court majority based its ruling on three basic points. First, unemancipated minors do not have all the same rights as adults. Schools are allowed to exercise a degree of supervision and control over their students that could not be exercised over free adults. Second, students, and especially student athletes, have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the general population. (The Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 case discussed above extended the Veronia ruling to all extracurricular activities.) Third, the school district’s need to discourage drug use among children is compelling enough to justify testing students.
If you have any questions or would like to speak to an education law attorney about a pressing matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free consultations to all new clients.
 “Drug Testing in the Workplace and in Public Schools,” posted by the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
State Sen. John Kissel, D-Enfield, predicted that lawmakers this year will pass changes that would allow parole hearings for juveniles who were given lengthy sentences for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18 years of age.
The law is intended to bring Connecticut into compliance with two U.S. Supreme Court rulings and a recent state Supreme Court finding that applies new studies on the brain development of adolescents to sentences ordered by the courts.
In the Graham v. Florida case, the court said the Constitution does not allow a sentence of life without parole for teens under age 18 for a non-homicide offense. Miller v. Alabama applied this to homicide cases and said sentencing has to consider how different adult brains are from children’s brains.
Considering levels of “maturity and rehabilitation,” the high court found that young offenders should be given a second look at their sentence and a “meaningful opportunity” to be released before their maximum sentence has run.
Lawmakers and advocates testified before the Judiciary Committee on two similar bills being considered this year, one in the House and one in the Senate.
The ability to seek parole would apply to youthful offenders sentenced to 10 years or more.
If the sentence, according to the testimony of Andrew Clark, a member of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, is 50 years or less, the inmate would be eligible to seek parole after 60 percent of his or her sentence was served, or 12 years, whatever is greater.
If the sentence was for more than 50 years, parole would be a possibility after 30 years.
There are almost 200 offenders serving more than 10 years for crimes they committed when they were younger than 18 and some 50 inmates are serving sentences of 50 years or more, Clark testified.
Bills passed the House in 2013 and 2014, but died both years in the Senate.
Last year, it was pulled for consideration in the Senate when Republicans were prepared to offer a number of amendments near the close of the session that would have held up votes on other legislation. Republicans said the Democrats were unwilling to negotiate, but that has changed.
This year, both sides compromised and that version of the bill is expected to be adopted, after some language on notification to victims at both the plea bargaining and sentencing phases has been worked out.
Changes to the Democratic Senate bill requested by state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, are expected to be in the final bill.
• The sentence for any youth transferred from the juvenile docket to the adult docket would have to consider brain science and apply it to 14- to 17-year-olds convicted of a class A or B felony, but not a C felony.
• The 10-year sentence would have to be the total effective sentence, not a concurrent sentence.
The science and sociological studies found that youths under age 18 have an “underdeveloped sense of responsibility … that often leads to impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions,” the sentencing commission wrote.
Youths also are more susceptible to peer pressure and have less control over their behavior, but also have an ability to change.
“(B)ecause the character of a juvenile … is not as well formed as that of an adult and because juveniles are more capable of change than adults, even the commission of a serious crime by a juvenile cannot ordinarily be considered as evidence that he or she is of a permanent bad character and incapable of reform,” Clark explained in his written testimony.
Looney, in written testimony, said the “second look” in the form of a parole hearing would have “extremely stringent requirements and burdens of proof” for the young offenders.
“It creates an opportunity — but far from a guarantee or even likelihood — of a second chance for an offender who was under the age of 18 when his or her crime was committed,” he wrote.
Both bills had the blessing of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane. He said judges likely will put more on the record on what they considered when imposing a sentence.
Quinnipiac law professor Sarah French Russell testified that adopting the law would bring more certainty to sentencing and a fairer, more predictable outcome.
She said the approach under consideration in Connecticut was “a fairly middle of the road response” to changes adopted in other states.
Russell said previously that New Haven has the highest number of young inmates serving more than 12 years in prison and more than 50 years.
According to Quinnipiac’s Legal Clinic, 93 percent of juvenile offenders serving more than 12 years are black or Hispanic, compared to 76 percent of the general prison population.
Kissell said the law will free up public defenders and will be a “cost-effective measure” for the state.
This year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is promoting a “second chance society” initiative that will look at ending mandatory miminum sentences for nonviolent drug possession; make it easier to get pardons; and speed up parole hearings for low-risk inmates.
If you have questions about juvenile law and sentencing, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
Credit: New Haven Register
Competency in juvenile court, like all other regular criminal proceedings, is an integral part of due process guaranteed by the Constitution. The idea is that people should not be held responsible for their actions if they do not understand what they did or do not understand why they are being punished. Competency, therefore, is one’s ability to participate in and understand legal proceedings and “aid in one’s own defense.”
Connecticut law provides that a child that is the subject to a delinquency petition shall not be adjudicated for the alleged act if they are not competent. However, it is important to note that there is a presumption in place that each child is competent. That presumption can only be overcome by a showing of a preponderance of evidence that the child is not competent. That burden is on the party raising the issue of competence.
A party seeking to question competency may raise the issue at any time during the delinquency proceedings. There is elaborate procedure set in place for a Connecticut juvenile court to inquire into the competency of a child facing a delinquency petition.
If you have questions about juvenile law or competency, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has overturned a 100-year prison sentence that was imposed on a Hartford teenager in a murder case, saying juveniles cannot be treated the same as adults when being sentenced for violent crimes.
In a 5-2 ruling, justices ordered a new sentencing hearing for Ackeem Riley, who was 17 in November 2006 when he sprayed gunfire into a Hartford crowd from a passing car. Three bystanders were shot, including 16-year-old honor student Tray Davis, who died.
The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama in 2012. That decision held that imposing life imprisonment without the chance of parole on a juvenile homicide offender without considering the characteristics of youth—including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences”—violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Miller decision was one of three U.S. Supreme Court rulings since 2005 that “fundamentally altered the legal landscape for the sentencing of juvenile offenders to comport with the ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” Connecticut Justice Andrew McDonald wrote in the majority decision. The rulings also barred capital punishment for all juvenile offenders and prohibited life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases.
McDonald wrote in the Feb. 27 ruling, which overturned a state Appellate Court decision, that it didn’t appear trial Judge Thomas V. O’Keefe Jr. adequately considered Riley’s age at the time of the shooting.
“The court made no mention of facts in the presentence report that might reflect immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” McDonald wrote. “In the entire sentencing proceeding, only defense counsel made an oblique reference to age.”
Justices Carmen Espinosa and Peter Zarella dissented. “The multiple victims justifies the longer sentence, as it properly reflects punishment for each of the victims, and does not allow the defendant to benefit from the fact that he shot at three people in the same vicious attack,” Espinosa wrote. “Although the sentence is a substantial one, it is not disproportionate to the defendant’s crimes.”
A spokesman for the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment. A new sentencing date for Riley, now 25, hasn’t been set.
State lawmakers are now considering a bill that would revamp Connecticut’s juvenile sentencing rules to conform to the U.S. Supreme court rulings. A similar measure failed last year.
There are about 50 Connecticut prisoners serving sentences of 50 or more years for crimes committed when they were under 18, and most are not eligible for parole. Defense lawyers say they expect more appeals involving the juvenile sentencing issue.
If you have questions about juvenile law, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
Credit: Connecticut Law Tribune
A 33-year-old woman who has been incarcerated since she was 14 has become the poster child as lawmakers consider a bill that changes juvenile sentencing laws and enables juveniles who were tried as adults to get a “second look” before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
In its third year before lawmakers, a proposal to bring state law into compliance with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions appears to have gained the momentum to make it law. The state Senate passed the bill with a 31-5 vote on April 22, and it is expected to receive a favorable vote in the House of Representatives now that Republican leaders who had opposed it have given their blessing.
About 200 sentenced prisoners whose cases already are under appeal based on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, would get a chance at earlier parole hearings if the bill becomes law.
One of those prisoners, Robin Ledbetter, has convinced supporters, including author Wally Lamb and volunteers in Lamb’s writing group at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution, that she is rehabilitated. According to court records, Ledbetter fatally stabbed a taxi driver in Hartford on Feb. 23, 1996 during a botched robbery with a male friend. A jury convicted her of felony murder and she was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Ledbetter’s name came up repeatedly during a March 4 public hearing.
“Scientific research, done after Robin went to prison, tells us teenagers are not just little adults,” said a letter submitted by Harriet and Stanley Hendel, a New York couple who said they visited Ledbetter at the Niantic women’s prison more than 40 times and would house her if she was released.
“Their immature behavior is directly a result of their immature (and incomplete) brain development. Giving a second chance to people like Robin sends a clear message of the possibility of redemption,” the Hendels wrote.
“What this bill does not do is guarantee that anyone will be released from incarceration,” said state Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield. “Rather, the bill provides an opportunity for a person who committed an offense at less than 18 years of age to appear before a board of parole and receive the benefit of scientific and psychological evidence during that hearing.”
The bill eliminates life sentences for offenders who committed crimes as juveniles, requires courts to consider youth as a mitigating factor when sentencing someone who committed a felony offense between the ages of 14 and 18, enables earlier parole hearings for those who were under 18 when they were sentenced to 10 or more years in prison and requires judges to order presentencing reports for juveniles convicted of felony offenses.
Attorneys who represent juveniles have for years been citing studies that the brain is not fully developed, particularly when it comes to reasoning and judgment, during the teenage years. In his submission to lawmakers, Lamb, the author, included excerpts of a Ledbetter essay in which she writes about her immaturity.
“When I committed my crime, I did not yet understand the concept of death,” she wrote.
Ledbetter wrote that when she eventually came to understand the value of human life, she was “drowning” in guilt and attempted suicide three times. She pulled herself together and went on to get her General Equivalency Diploma, and certificates as a certified nursing assistant and alcohol and drug counselor. She takes college courses through Wesleyan University and serves as a mentor in prison support groups. She received a PEN America award for writing completed under Lamb’s direction.
Now, Lamb told the lawmakers, Ledbetter has become “a mature, responsible and fully rehabilitated young woman.” Ledbetter’s codefendant, Lucis Richardson, 36, also is serving a 50-year sentence for the crime he committed as a juvenile, though his case has not been mentioned in connection with juvenile sentencing reform.
If you have questions about juvenile law, please contact the experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
Credit: The Day News