Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Juvenile Background

In the criminal law world, we use the word "background" when we talk about a person's criminal record. If I say the defendant has no background, I am stating the defendant has no convictions. Typically for court purposes, mere arrests are not mentioned.

I used to think that crimes committed when one is a juvenile were somehow sealed behind some iron curtain. And that such crimes could never be used against that person later in life. That's what I thought. I imagine most people think the same.

A purpose for the juvenile court system, among others, is that we know kids do dumb things. And we usually don't want to imprison them. We all do stupid things while young. But some are more stupid than others. I have seen juvenile backgrounds and most cases are screened out. This means they are let go with a slap on the wrist.

A formal adjudication is entered when the case is serious enough or when the wrists are too swollen and bruised to slap further. Being formally adjudicated leads to juvenile probation or detention. A juvenile adjudication is basically the same thing as an adult conviction.

Illinois has pretty tough juvenile laws. 1st degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, armed robbery with a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm (shooting someone), and aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm are crimes that by law are excluded from juvenile court if the defendant is 15 or older.

Though the juvenile is not kept in the adult county jail, their case is entirely in adult court by law. Naturally, they are sentenced as adults as well.

I have never been in juvenile court. I know where it is. But that's about it. And until recently, I didn't have much experience with juveniles being charged as adults. Last month I was hired to represent a 16 year old charged with armed robbery with a firearm.

He allegedly was one of 3 boys that committed the crime. He is not alleged to have ever held a gun. But under Illinois accomplice liability, it doesn't matter. Even if there was only 1 gun, all 3 of them are criminally liable for it.

If I hand you my gun so you can walk into a 7-11 and hold it up, I am just as liable as if I had gone in and did the robbery myself.

Armed robbery is a Class X felony. It's non-probationable. And one cannot be sentenced to Cook County Impact Incarceration for it. Impact Incarceration is commonly known as Boot Camp. The prison system also has the same program, but they are different in how they operate.

My 16 year old client is looking at 6 years minimum and another 15 on top of that if the State proceeds on the gun. Class X felonies are sentenced from 6 to 30 years in prison. If a firearm was used in the commission of the crime, another 15 years is added. If the firearm is discharged, it's another 20 years. And if the firearm actually shoots someone, it's another 25 years.

If the victim is shot, it's going to be an 85% sentence, meaning the defendant does 85% of the time. Even if the judge sentenced the minimum of 6 years on the Class X, once 25 more is added for the gun, it's 31 years at 85%. That's over 26 years of real time. 

An armed robbery gone wrong can earn a sentence of up to 55 years at 85%. But someone can get the minimum of 20 years for a first degree murder.

Let me take a moment to explain this 85% business. Most prison sentences are much shorter in real time than what the judge gives. In Illinois most crimes are 50%. This means if sentenced to 6 years, it's only 3 years of real time. But shorter sentences are less than 50%. A 1 year sentence is only 61 days of real time. And a 2 year sentence is about 6 months.

But if great bodily harm is caused during the crime, the sentence is served at 85%. First degree murder convictions are typically served at 100%.

Back to my juvenile client: it's a bad case. The police pulled up to the scene as this robbery was taking place. They claim they saw where all the offenders ran. And they claim my client was one of them. The client signed a written confession in the presence of his father.

The only way I see anything but prison time for this boy is if the State agrees to reduce the case to aggravated robbery, a Class 1 felony. A reduction in charge would bring this case back into a possible probation scenario or maybe boot camp when he turns 17 in a few months.

His bond was initially set at $250,000 D. This means he would have to post $25,000 to be released from juvenile custody. Doesn't this bond seem a bit excessive for a 16 year old with no background? $25,000...really?

Apparently the judge agreed with me. I arraigned this case today and asked the judge to review his bond. I asked the preliminary judge for a bond reduction last month. My request was denied. However, the trial judge cut his bond in half. I consider this a very small victory. But $12,500 is still a lot of money for a kid from the South side of Chicago.

According to police records, the offenders got no money from the victim. There was no cash in his wallet. Was the juice worth the squeeze? I think not.

On another juvenile note, I had a 17 year old client plead guilty to a gun this morning. He would have gotten probation, but he had a juvenile felony adjudication a couple of years ago. Despite the fact he was 15 when it allegedly happened, he paid for it today as an adult.

The judge did not give him a pass.


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