In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court has struck down a law that lets the state keep juvenile offenders that it considers dangerous for another three years after they turn 18. Under Massachusetts’ extended commitment law, the Department of Youth Services is allowed to hold juveniles until age 21. The state’s highest court, however, is now saying that the the law violates the youths’ constitutional rights.
The court issued its ruling in a case brought by three juveniles. The court says the law does not clearly define what “dangerousness” means. Previously, the law had a requirement that the threat of physical dangerousness had to connected to a mental condition that would make it hard for a person to practice self-restraint. That requirement, however, was dropped in 1990.
The court also said that it in 2004, it told the Legislature that it was seriously worried about the law’s constitutionality and asked them to try and fix its flaws. According to Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts deputy director Barbara Kaban, the court’s ruling shows that the state will not detain someone based on an allegation of dangerousness if the meaning of what that danger actually consists of is unclear.
The juveniles that brought the case had been detained for a number of crimes, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and larceny. The three youths have been in DYS custody since they were 16. While they were put on probation at first, all three of them violated their probation terms and were sent back to the juvenile detention facilities. The DYS applied for extended commitment orders for all three youths before they turned 18.
A DYS spokesperson says that following the new ruling, some 12 youths between ages 18 and 21 who are still in DYS custody will likely be released.
The state of Massachusetts uses a completely different system for juveniles and adults when prosecuting crimes. There are steps that can be taken to protect the rights of your son or daughter and to minimize the impact of being charged with a juvenile crime.
Court: State can’t hold youth 3 extra years, BostonHerald.com, February 13, 2009
Juveniles’ release after 18 backed, The Republican, February 11, 2009
Related Web Resources:
Massachusetts Department of Youth Services