Injustice in Focus

Posts Tagged ‘juvenile justice

Sorry, Corey…Time To Go

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A Facebook event has been created to seek the removal of Angela Corey from office.

This is a “virtual event” which requires nothing more than for you to sign the petition and phone, email or write to any or all of the officials listed below. The purpose of this event is to have the State Attorney of Florida’s 4th Judicial District, Angela Corey, removed…

Corey’s “tough on crime” stance has met with much opposition since she took office in 2009, most notably, her penchant for having juvenile defendants as young as twelve tried as adults. Her actions have become a burden for the taxpayer while eschewing studies which have clearly demonstrated that the chance of recidivism among juveniles incarcerated in an adult facility is much greater than those housed in juvenile facilities where the opportunities for rehabilitation and furthering of their education is available. This is not possible in an adult facility.

A case in point is Cristian Fernandez, who, if convicted, will serve a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Who will be the next child to fall foul of Corey’s ways?

More information about Cristian’s case can be found here and at the justice4juveniles website.

A recent study by Drs. Michael Hallett and Dan Pontzer shows Corey’s “tough on crime” stance to be counter-productive and that her “hard-nosed approach [is] causing the costly and unnecessary surge in jail population” at Duval County Jail, the cost for which is met, once again, by the taxpayer. Folio Weekly published an article titled ‘The Punisher’ last week about the study.

Corey’s scant regard for those whom she was elected to serve, is abundantly clear and it is time for her to be removed from office.

Contacts:

Governor Rick Scott

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
(850) 488-7146

The Governor may be contacted by email here.
For those outside Florida, enter the Jacksonville zip code 32202 and the county as Duval.

Attorney General Pam Bondi

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
(850) 414-3990

The Attorney General may be contacted by email here:

US Attorney General Eric Holder

Office of US Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
(202) 514-2000
email: askdoj@usdoj.gov

Written by Injustice in Focus

March 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

Cristian Fernandez breaks the shackles

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Cristian Fernandez

Good news is something that 13 year old Cristian Fernandez has rarely received since his arrest in April of 2011. Today, that all changed.

Judge Mallory Cooper granted a motion filed on Cristian’s behalf by his defense team, led by Hank Coxe which took over the case from Matt Shirk on February 1.

During his tenure as counsel, Shirk had seemingly not even considered the shackling to be a violation of Cristian’s rights, much less bother to file a motion with the court, as Coxe and his team did within the first week of having taking over the case.

Although the motion filed read, in part “the trial court has full discretion over security procedures” Judge Cooper’s decision stated that “It is abundantly clear that the presence of multiple law enforcement officers in the courtroom is more than sufficient to ensure the safety and security of Cristian and others” adding that Cristian posed no risk to the court unrestrained.

Further, the motion states “This court finds the defendant does not have a history of escape and has not created any disturbances or posed a potential threat to anyone in the courtroom during the pendency of his cases. As a result, it is unnecessary to physically restrain the defendant while he is present in the courtroom.”

The State’s response was somewhat guarded, with Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel saying “I think Judge Cooper has always handled Mr. Fernandez’s case with the utmost discretion” adding that there was no objection to the decision from the State Attorney’s Office.

Whilst there was no mention made of the public pressure applied to the court by supporters of Cristian, they will doubtless be overjoyed by the news. A Facebook event had been created by advocate Melissa Higgins, whereby she asked supporters to email “State Attorney Angela Corey, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, Judge Mallory Cooper, and Governor Rick Scott to demand that they stop the indiscriminate shackling of 13 year old Cristian Fernandez”. All four were inundated with correspondence from supporters around the world.

Speaking today, Ms. Higgins told this author “I think that it is a really positive sign that Judge Mallory Cooper recognized the profoundly prejudicial impact that shackling Cristian would have at his upcoming criminal trial. Today’s news suggests that some things are finally beginning to look up in a case that has been both tragic and bleak from a number of perspectives from the very beginning. This was a step forward for Jacksonville today, and for the civil and human rights of juveniles across America.”

The decision by Judge Cooper should now be seen as a precedent for all other cases of juveniles being shackled for court appearances, effectively closing the loophole in the Florida Supreme Court’s amendment to Rule 8.100 of the Florida Statute.

California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont no longer shackle juvenile defendants as a result of State Supreme Court rulings or legislative action, yet many states still employ the practice.

A petition has been created to address this issue, so that others may be afforded the same humane treatment as Cristian was today.

Cristian’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 7.

Written by Injustice in Focus

February 28, 2012 at 11:12 am

Can Jordan Brown’s case finally move forward?

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Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown was arrested on February 21, 2009 and charged with the murder of his father Chris’ pregnant fiancé, Kenzie Houk and her unborn child in Wampum, PA. He has now been detained for three years without having his case heard.

In early 2011, a petition was started by advocate Melissa Higgins to raise awareness for Jordan’s plight, pointing out, among other things, that his treatment was in direct violation of international law. Close to 4,000 people from around the world showed their support by signing the petition and bringing pressure to bear on Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly. It was successful.

In August of 2011, Judge Dominick Motto who had originally ruled Jordan would be tried as an adult, reversed his decision and he will, rightfully, now be tried as a juvenile.

His case has been in limbo since three Pittsburgh news outlets petitioned the court to have the trial remain open to public scrutiny.

On Tuesday, in her 33 page opinion, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Shogan ruled that the yet to be scheduled trial for Jordan will remain closed to the public and consequently the media, much to the chagrin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the New Castle News and their attorneys.

Part of the ruling stated “denial of public access to the juvenile proceedings at hand serves an important government interest” because “under the facts of the case, there is no alternative short of closure of the juvenile court proceedings which will adequately serve the privacy interests of Jordan.”

The media had argued that preliminary hearings had been open and therefore all subsequent hearings should remain that way. What they fail to understand is that initially Jordan was to be tried as an adult, thereby giving the public access to his pretrial hearings. Their claims that since much of the case had already been aired in public, it should remain that way, are unfounded.

The media’s actions in this matter have been reprehensible. At no time have they showed any concern for Jordan’s well being, made evident by injecting themselves into the case for nothing more than a selfish need to increase circulation of their respective publications.

The objectivity of certain journalists from the aforementioned media (and their editors) has been found wanting since they began reporting on the case and very few have maintained any semblance of journalistic integrity or ethical behavior in that regard.

Jonathan D. Silver’s erroneous complaint that “the information blackout could be so complete that the public might not be able to learn when and whether a hearing has occurred, much less the outcome” is a nonsense which typifies the irresponsible coverage of Jordan’s case from certain quarters.

Frederick N. Frank, attorney for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was quoted as saying “We are disappointed that the Superior Court did not recognize the right of the Post-Gazette to cover this important case under the Constitutional and common law presumption of openness of judicial proceedings”. My suggestion to Fred would be for him to appraise himself of the law as it reads with regard to this matter and the case.

Dennis Elisco, one of Jordan’s attorneys, quite rightly stated “I think it was the right result. It was the result most of us expected. It’s a huge step in the right direction, which is to get the case tried.” So very true.

As yet, no statement has been issued as to whether Judge Shogan’s decision will be appealed by the three media outlets. They have thirty days in which to do so.

Written by Injustice in Focus

February 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

Unshackle Juveniles in the Courtroom

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Historically, the shackling of prisoners has been a form of punishment or discipline but in more modern times has been used as an instrument of restraint, particularly when moving inmates from one area of a facility to another, or transporting them to and from a facility for court appearances. It has applied to both juveniles and adults but in the last decade, the practice with regard to the shackling of juveniles has received widespread condemnation and deemed a violation of their constitutional (if not human) rights.

As of 2007, 28 states regularly practiced the shackling of juveniles during court appearances. In the last several years alone, there have been numerous instances where the use of shackles has been seen as not only dehumanizing and degrading, but completely unnecessary.

Patricia Puritz, executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center commented that shackling “is so egregious, so offensive, so unnecessary” and “There is harm to the child and there is also harm to the integrity of the process. These children haven’t even been found guilty of anything.”

A case in point is that of Jordan Brown, who at the age of eleven was arrested and charged with the murder of his father’s fiance and her unborn child in 2009, in Wampum, Pennsylvania.

His appearance in court for his arraignment (and subsequent pre trial hearings) with his small frame shackled both wrist and ankle, alarmed not only his family and advocates against this archaic practice but most rational thinking people as well. His family was told that the he will continue to be shackled in the courtroom until such time as he is brought before a jury at trial, the reason for which is specious at best, as the prosecution would feel a shackled child may influence a jury to be more compassionate than they would like.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania adopted Rule 139, specifically “to eliminate shackling during a court proceeding in almost every case. Only in the few extreme cases should such restraints be utilized”.

Another juvenile who has been paraded, shackled, before the media and the court is Cristian Fernandez who at age twelve was arrested and charged with the murder of his two-year-old stepbrother in Jacksonville, Florida. Like Jordan, the evidence against him is weak and his behavior whilst detained, exemplary. Yet, he continues to be brought before the court shackled when it is obvious the child poses no threat to anybody whatsoever. Curiously no motion has been filed on his behalf to allow him to appear unrestrained.

The argument for those in support of shackling was essentially rendered moot, when in 2009, the Florida Supreme Court limited the use of shackling juveniles with the amendment (effective January 1, 2010) to Rule 8.100 (General Provisions for Hearings) which reads in part;

Rule 8.100(b)

Instruments of restraint may not be used on a child during court and must be re-moved unless the court makes a finding that both

1. the use of the shackles are necessary due to one of these factors

A. to prevent harm to the child or another

B. the child has a history of disruptive behavior that has placed others in harmful situations or present a substantial risk of risk inflicting harm on themselves or others as evidenced by recent behavior or

C. the child is a flight risk

AND

2. there is no less restrictive alternative that will prevent flight or harm

As stated by the Florida Supreme Court, “We find the indiscriminate shackling of children in Florida courtrooms as described in the NJDC’s Assessment repugnant, degrading, humiliating and contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice, a concept which this Court has previously been acknowledged.”

The states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont no longer shackle juvenile defendants as a result of State Supreme Court rulings or legislative action.

In 2010, Justice Milton A. Tingling Jr. of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan found “that the agency’s policy violated the state’s own law on shackling youths in custody”.

There is an obvious and growing trend toward amending juvenile procedures in the courtroom and it is my hope that you will give this petition the consideration it deserves and sign it so as this violation of not only law, but the rights of all juvenile defendants will be recognized in future.

Written by Injustice in Focus

February 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm

The Shirking of Responsibility

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Matt Shirk and Cristian Fernandez

At the behest of court appointed guardian ad litem, Hugh Cotney, a motion was filed in late January to have Public Defender Matt Shirk replaced as counsel for Cristian Fernandez. While the team of prominent attorneys led by Hank Coxe are not new to the case, having been involved with seeking to have the charge of sexual battery filed against Cristian dismissed, they are eminently more qualified to defend him.

Shirk’s initial response was muted before lamenting “It has taken a long time to build a trust in the attorney-client relationship”. He knew his time was nigh but that didn’t stop him from baring his claws with “Let’s look at it for what it is. If I were in private practice, you live by the almighty dollar” which is curious, given his political affiliations and background. In addition, he churlishly suggested the new attorneys were only interested in taking the case due to its high profile and that it was good for drumming up business.

Coxe responded unequivocally “We are collectively – and incredibly – disappointed with Mr. Shirk’s perception of our profession and its obligations”. A more than reasonable assessment.

Shirk on Facebook, Feb 3

Shirk had resorted previously to Facebook in an attempt to placate supporters of Cristian and did so again on the Save Cristian Fernandez page (left). Again, some were grateful for his efforts and others less forgiving with asides such as “Amen!”, “YES!” and “Great news!” in response to the news of his removal. Shirk’s ineffectual “I think you are underestimating how hard my office worked on behalf of Cristian” was lost on many, with some knowing how little he had done for Cristian by his own admission in an email to the State Attorney’s Office.

Lost in a world of his own self importance and social gatherings to strengthen his re-election bid, Shirk could not even file a motion with the court to have Cristian appear unshackled during pre-trial hearings. Yet again it was left to supporters to bring pressure to bare and petition the court to see that it is done.

He spoke often of the “remarkable little boy” he was supposed to be defending against a villainous prosecutor and after promising (along with investigator Paul Pinkham) to attend the February 8th rally for Cristian at the Duval County Courthouse, he not only failed to appear but offered that it had “not been a good day” and that “he had some things that came up” when questioned as to his absence. It seems his caring for Cristian had ceased the day he was removed from the case, if not earlier.

The “$200,000 to $300,000 in future costs” which Shirk says his replacements will save the taxpayer should go part way toward footing the bill for the $230,000 he and his office were paid, essentially under false pretenses.

With Shirk out of the picture and a team of well credentialed, experienced attorneys to defend him, the future is looking somewhat brighter for Cristian Fernandez.

Written by Injustice in Focus

February 10, 2012 at 6:22 am

Thank you from Cristian Fernandez

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Cristian Fernandez thanks supporters

On January 14, Cristian spent his thirteenth birthday in the confines of Duval Regional Detention Center, where he is being held awaiting trial. A Facebook page was started by Cristian’s staunchest supporter and advocate, Melissa Higgins, in the weeks leading up to his birthday. Cristian received many cards and his thank you reply was heartfelt and touching, especially considering the living hell he is enduring.

Cristian’s next hearing is scheduled for February 8 and I am sure he would appreciate letters of support leading up to that day and his trial on February 27. This child is being railroaded by the heartless State Attorney Angela Corey, so please take a moment to familiarize yourself with his plight.

Thank you.

Cristian Fernandez
Duval Regional Detention Center
1241 East 8th Street
Jacksonville, FL 32206-4099

Written by Injustice in Focus

January 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Rally for Cristian Fernandez | Amnesty International USA

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Cristian Fernandez

Please join us on February 8th, 2012 at 7am, in front of the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida (330 East Bay Street), in a peaceful protest against the handling of Cristian Fernandez in the adult justice system. Cristian was barely 12 years old when he was charged as an adult in the death of his brother. If he is convicted on February 27th he faces life without parole.

The case of Cristian Fernandez has attracted local, state, national and even international attention through a petition drive sponsored by Change.org. Almost 180,000 people and organizations signed a petition asking State Attorney Angela Corey to reverse the decision to try Cristian as an adult. Angela Corey has since proclaimed she does not “prosecute by petition”.

You may also contact us at savecristian@yahoo.com if you are interested in attending the rally on February 8th. There is also additional information at savecristian.org.

The rally coincides with a 9am hearing at the courthouse where the judge will rule on motions filed by the defense.

Event starts at 7am.

Duval County Courthouse

330 East Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
United States

Link to article

Written by Injustice in Focus

January 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm