A Michigan House subcommittee will take another run at a package of bills that some say would help courts deal with youthful offenders. The bills address juvenile competency and culpability.
Supporters of the bills say that they’re long overdue, and would provide a process for minors who are deemed incompetent by the court. But critics have said that it’s unclear how the juvenile offender programs and processes would be funded.
The mental health subcommittee of House Judiciary will discuss the bills at a noon meeting on March 17. On the agenda:
- HB 5175: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency and culpability; clarify.
- HB 5482: Mental health; forensic; restoration of juvenile to competency to proceed; clarify.
- HB 5483: Juveniles; criminal procedure; restoration of juvenile to competency to proceed; clarify.
- HB 5484: Juveniles; criminal procedure; certain statements made during juvenile competency evaluation; clarify.
- HB 5485: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency definitions; clarify.
- HB 5486: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency hearing; require.
- HB 5487: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency and evaluation; clarify.
- HB 5488: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency evaluation; require use of a qualified examiner.
- HB 5489: Juveniles; criminal procedure; juvenile competency evaluation and report; clarify.
To read Michigan Lawyers Weekly coverage of the bills, click here.
Read the proposed bills here.
The Michigan House Judiciary Committee will take up a package of proposed bills to address juvenile offender competency and culpability, and how to represent young offenders.
When the bills were introduced to a mental health subcommittee last year, various stakeholder groups mainly agreed that there is a need to determine the process for determining competency for minors.
Michigan currently has no process to address competency, so young offenders who are not competent simply get turned back out into families who can’t manage them, where they are dangers to the communities in which they live.
People who offered input to the subcommittee also agreed that standards to define competency should be clear. But the details — such as the age at which a young person can be deemed competent — needed serious tweaking.
Also left undetermined was exactly who would be given the task of evaluating the youths. Many, if not most, state mental health agencies are already challenged to provide services within the confines of shrinking budgets.
So taking on another significant task such as evaluating youthful offenders is beyond the scope of what their budgets will bear.
The bills are on the committee agenda for the meeting at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 20, at 521 House Office Building in Lansing.
“Their eyes watered, but two 15-year-olds otherwise remained stoic Wednesday as they shuffled off to prison for life for the beating deaths of two homeless men,” reported The Detroit News.
“Bound by handcuffs and leg irons, Thomas J. McCloud Jr. and Dontez Tillman betrayed few emotions as an Oakland County judge offered advice on surviving prison.Two 15-year-olds are headed to prison for life for beating two homeless men to death in an attack described as ‘sport.’
“‘Don’t make any friends. Keep quiet and follow the rules. And hold your head up high,’ Visiting Judge Steven N. Andrews told the pair.”
“Michigan is traveling down a dangerous road with our public defense system, the process for upholding the constitutionally mandated right to counsel — providing adults and children with an attorney if they cannot afford one,” writes Regina Daniels Thomas, chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Group for the Legal Aid and Defender Association in Detroit, in a Detroit News opinion piece.
“First, there was the statewide report issued last year by a panel of national experts that cited Michigan’s public defense system as one of America’s worst. Michigan provides no funding for trial-level defense services. The state sets no standards for attorneys working in the system. And, as the epitome of government inefficiency, we allow each of our 83 counties to provide defense services differently.”
The severe beating of a 16-year-old boy at an unsupervised house party is the impetus for a proposed city ordinance that would make adults responsible for policing what happens at those gatherings, reports The Kalamazoo Gazette.
Kalamazoo City Commissioner Stephanie Moore is pushing the measure, which would make “people who control the site of a youth party responsible for ‘under-age use of intoxicants, controlled substances or weapons.'”
The proposal contains an escape clause for adults who try to keep matters under control:
Under the measure scheduled for first-reading Monday night, responsible adults would not be charged with violations if they took “corrective action,” including asking offenders to leave the premises. If that request was refused, the adult would still be immune if they reported the incident to Kalamazoo Public Safety.
More about liability for house parties from The Gazette.
The Detroit News reports that Michigan’s high number of teens sentenced to life in prison without parole has child advocates questioning laws that give judges that option.
A study by the University of Texas says Michigan has the second most such inmates in the country. The report also says Michigan is among the harshest in the way it treats teens accused of major crimes.
Michigan’s laws are unusual in that they allow juvenile judges to impose adult penalties on children too young to be transferred to adult criminal court, according to the report by the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs.