Message from Chief Judge Satterfield, DC Superior Court and CM Jim Graham on Youth Crime

by Prince Of Petworth March 31, 2010 at 10:00 am 55 Comments

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Photo from PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

I had to share this message, from the Ward 1 listserv, about juvenile crime. Get ready to be frustrated:

I have been made aware of an email exchange on several Ward1 listservs last week in which several inaccurate statements were made about the juvenile justice system in the District of Columbia . I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify what authority D.C. law does – and does not – provide Family Court judges. I would ask that one of you please forward this to the listservs that the exchange was posted on.

DC law does not provide the Court with any authority over youth committed to the custody of the city. Family Court judges who find a juvenile ‘involved’ in a crime (the DC Code’s nomenclature for guilt), have but two options: put the youth on probation, which the court’s juvenile probation officers monitor and over which the judges have control, or, if the judge thinks probation is not sufficient, the judge can commit the youth to the city at which point the court loses all authority over the youth including the authority to securely detain a youth.

In his email, in reference to a particular case, CM Graham said that judge after judge did not “take charges seriously enough” and that “one of the reasons we have such a high level of youth violence in this city is this: Young criminals think they have nothing to fear from the courts…” I agree that youth often do not fear going before a judge but the reason is that youth know that if they are adjudicated guilty by a judge, the judge has no authority to securely detain them under DC law. However, I disagree with CM Graham’s statement that judges do not take the charges seriously. Usually when judges commit youth to the city, we do so because we believe that probation is not sufficient and that the youth needs secure detention or long term residential placement at a treatment facility. In other words, we believe that the charges are serious enough to warrant removing the youth from the community either for the safety of the community or safety of the youth. We just do not have the authority to accomplish this goal. I have expressed these concerns many times to members of both the legislative and executive branches of government. So I find it very troubling and somewhat irresponsible when I see this public effort by CM Graham to blame the judges. No system is perfect, including the court system. However, we make every effort to meet the needs of all residents in the community that we serve, consistent with our mandate to provide justice for all.

Lee F. Satterfield

Chief Judge
Superior Court of the District of Columbia

After the jump is an email from CM Graham about the need for tougher youth laws.

We are once again experiencing a spike in crew/gang related violence in Ward One. Over the last 2 weeks, in Ward 1 alone, we have had multiple shootings, all of which were targeted, crew related incidents. Beefs, retaliation, gun shots. Several young men were wounded. No arrests as yet. They are all now back on the streets, with their fellow crew members, angry and probably armed. We have strong police presence, but the most recent shooting occurred right in front of an MPD camera with the police on patrol literally seconds away.

I have worked hard on the Council fighting for BOTH enhanced enforcement powers and funding for best practice gang / crew prevention and intervention programs. I have authored $2.5 million in funding to establish the citywide gang intervention strategy. And this summer will be the 9th year for my Ward One summer youth employment program that employs young people between ages 14 – 21 who do not typically sign up for the DOES Summer Youth Employment Program.

There is no substitute for effective enforcement and police action, however. Last year, I was pleased the Council adopted the first 2 recommendations contained in the Blueprint for Action: Responding to Gang / Crew Violence in the District of Columbia which I funded. (Copies are available in my Office) Chief Lanier and Mayor Fenty have led the way in implementing those recommendations.

This week I reviewed the arrest and other records of an 18 year old man (now charged with murder). It was a sorry tale of offense after offense between the age of 14 and 18. Judge after judge did not take the charges seriously enough. If the public could see these records, there would be such a public outcry against how our criminal prosecution system works with youthful offenders.

I am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons we have such a high level of youth violence in this city is this: Young criminals think they have nothing to fear from the courts and the prose. Their greatest fear is instead what will happen to them on the streets.

So once again, I have joined Councilmember Evans in co-introducing a bill (18-595) to strengthen the ability of MPD, the Office of the Attorney General and the US Attorney’s Office to fight entrenched crime in our neighborhoods. Councilmember Mendelson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Justice has scheduled a public hearing on the bill on April 19.

As introduced, the bill:

* Enhances mandatory sentencing guidelines for known criminal street gang members using a firearm while committing a crime.
* Authorizes filing civil actions against persons that obstruct, hinder, impede the free use of public space and free passage on public space.
* Adds evidence of firearms to the Drug Related Nuisance Abatement laws.
* Makes possession of PCP a felony offense.
* Allows witnesses and victims access to certain information on juvenile proceedings.
* Establishes a Community Impact Statement which allows 1 or more members of a community to submit a statement to a Judge prior to the sentencing of a convicted criminal. (Related to this, I have been very supportive and pleased with the work of Cecilia Jones and the Community Criminal Justice Accountability Initiative)

We need your testimony and support on April 19. Please let me know if you would like a copy of the bill.


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