Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Failure: Juvenile Court

Today I will walk into Juvenile Court and accept diversion for a client who was involved in a misdemeanor battery. She will do her 15 hours of community service. The case will be dismissed.

And I couldn't be more angry, for two reasons.

First, when did a scuffle in school become an arrestable offense? Answer: When we as adults admitted our failure to and lack of interest in raising our children. That we can't take two fighting kids into the office and discipline them without having the meeting end with officer friendly (maybe the real officer friendly) snapping on the cuffs, is our disgrace. We suck. We failed. We are to blame.

Second, my "child" is getting diversion because the "victim agreed." Victim's rights are a big things these days. The mantra of "criminals get more rights than victims," has resulted in, well, victims gaining the right to run our system. Another failure of leadership.

In Florida, we have a Constitutional amendment that allows victims to be heard and notified of all court appearances. Prosecutors have interpreted this to mean they can offer plea deals. It makes things easier for the upcoming story in the paper or on TV to say that the "victim approved the plea," or not.

Sometimes, a prosecutor who has some guts, will ovcerride the vindictive victim - the one who won't agree to diversion or probation because they "want jail" for a minor offense or first time offender. Maybe the prosecutor knows the victim is looking for an advantage in a pending or soon-to-be-filed civil case.

My "child" and the victim hate each other and have for a long time. Reason? My client is a foreigner, and her "victim" has been taunting her. So one day my "child" hauled off and hit her.

Good. That ended that.

The prosecutor, overworked with other "why is this in juvenile court" cases, told me my "child" could not get diversion unless the victim agreed.

Seriously?

"She hates my client," I said.

"What if she doesn't agree and gives you no reason?"

"Sorry, I don't think I can override (this 15 year old) her."

"Sure you can."

"I don't think so."

The prosecutor tried, initially telling me that the victim was "waivering." Still, there would be no diversion until this victim agreed. The prosecutor was paralyzed by bad training, and a system that has succeeded in giving crime victims more rights than defendants.

Congratulations.

I don't know why this victim finally agreed. I would like to think her mommy and daddy told her about forgiveness and second chances. Maybe the prosecutor did a good job convincing her to agree.

That this is how we are resolving disputed between our children, is disgusting, in so many ways.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter