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Juvenile delinquency hearings

Published (3/23/2012)
By Mike Cook
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If a 16- or 17-year-old has committed a felony-level crime, the juvenile hearing is currently open to the public. The resulting records are also public, even if the charges are later reduced or dismissed.

A bill proffered by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) would keep those hearings as is for adult certification and extended jurisdiction juvenile proceedings, but the standard could change for delinquency hearings.

The bill would require a court to determine that, due to the seriousness of the charge, the hearing should be open because the public safety benefits outweigh potential consequences to the child due to the resulting public record.

“This change will give judges the discretion to decide if an offense is serious or violent enough to make it public,” said Mark Haase, vice president of projects and operations for the Council on Crime and Justice.

Approved March 20 by the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee, HF876 was sent to the House floor.

“We’ve got 2-3,000 felony-level delinquency petitions filed every year,” Smith said. “Later, when the young people seek work, try to get their life back on track or gain employment or housing, they’ll often be denied sometimes not even knowing that it’s (because of) their juvenile record. This situation is contrary to rehabilitative services of our public juvenile system.”

Smith said there is a need to hold youths accountable so they can learn from their mistakes, but one dumb youthful transgression shouldn’t necessarily hold them back for the rest of their lives.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Tom Arneson, manager of the office’s Juvenile Prosecution Division, spoke against the bill at the committee’s March 13 meeting.

“Current law allows some light to be shed on the juvenile justice system. This bill creates a presumption of secrecy for an additional class of serious offenses,” he said. “Additionally, it will be difficult to have these decisions made on a case-by-case basis and will lead to disparities in treatments of these cases.”

A companion, SF602, sponsored by Sen. Michael Jungbauer (R-East Bethel), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

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