June 6, 2015

Program dies that let juvenile offenders clear their records

6-6-15 California:

An unintended casualty of California’s criminal justice realignment of 2011, which shifted low-level criminals from state to county custody to relieve prison overcrowding, was a program that allowed juvenile offenders who did well on parole to erase their records that could follow them for the rest of their lives.

The apparently unintended repeal of the rehabilitation program was disclosed Thursday by a state appeals court in San Jose in the case of a young South Bay man seeking to clear a record that now subjects him to lifetime registration as a sex offender. The court urged legislators to remedy the oversight by either restoring the previous program or expressly eliminating it.

“Sorting out the conflict is a task for the Legislature, not the courts,” said Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing in the 3-0 decision.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office argued successfully against court intervention in the case, is open to discussing revisions in the law, her top aide said Friday.

“One of the core purposes of realignment was helping those people, and particularly young people, who have worked hard and honestly to get themselves right,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Nathan Barankin. “Those people who have committed crimes and are capable of rehabilitating themselves should be given the tools to succeed.”

Prison overcrowding

Realignment was Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to reduce the state prison population in response to federal court orders that found dangerous overcrowding to be a primary cause of substandard inmate health care and preventable deaths.

By transferring tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons and juvenile facilities to local custody, the law also shifted responsibility for their post-release supervision from state parole officers to county probation officers. Under the former system, a juvenile who successfully completed parole after custody, and had shown an “ability for honorable self-support” in the view of the parole board, received an “honorable discharge” that removed all future penalties attached to the crimes.

Some crimes disqualify offenders from benefits such as food stamps and welfare. Most non-consensual sex crime convictions require offenders to register annually with police for life and have their names and addresses listed on a public database.

The realignment law failed to authorize anyone at the local level to issue such discharges, an apparent “oversight by the Legislature,” the court said. While youths can still ask their trial judge to erase their record, they no longer have an automatic right to such treatment after successful post-release supervision.

Troubled young man

The case involved a young man with a long juvenile record and a horrific childhood history.

The defendant, identified as J.S., was born in prison in 1992, the son of a convicted murderer and a woman who soon abandoned him to a woman she met in a Denny’s restaurant, the court said. He suffered abuse in his new home, and again at the hands of a staffer at a children’s home, was placed in 14 different facilities by age 17, and has been diagnosed with mental and emotional disorders and drug and alcohol abuse, the court said.

Between 2007 and 2010, juvenile courts in Santa Clara County found that J.S. had committed multiple robberies, possessed marijuana for sale, carried a concealed dirk or dagger, and committed oral copulation by force. He was committed to a state juvenile facility in May 2010 and was released 31/2 years later after graduating from high school and doing well in the facility’s programs. He soon became homeless, moved to Monterey County and was arrested in February 2014 for failing to take part in counseling programs or to update his registration as a sex offender.

Courts lack authority

J.S. said he wants to stay on probation for the time being and take advantage of the services it offers. Regardless of how well he performs, the justices said, courts lack the authority to give him an “honorable discharge” without further legislative action.

J.S.’s lawyer, Sidney Hollar, said she doesn’t plan to seek review from the state Supreme Court. “Hopefully, the Legislature will take it up,” she said. ..Source.. by Bob Egelko

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