In the second week of July, the Massachusetts’ Senate passed a bill that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of juveniles entangled in the criminal juvenile justice system.
First of all, the bill would create a parent/child privilege. At present, anything a child divulges to his/her parent about a criminal matter is admissible in court. Under the new bill, a parent would be permitted to speak freely with and counsel a child charged with a crime without risking being forced to testify later in court about what had been discussed.
Second, the bill would allow juvenile delinquency records to be easily expunged, meaning a juvenile’s criminal history could be deleted completely. Under present law, juvenile delinquency records may be “sealed” from the public and employers after a waiting period of several years, but law enforcement, schools and courts can still view those records so the child’s past never really becomes part of his/her past. Under the new bill, misdemeanors would be undetectable by EVERYONE provided the juvenile completed the requisite form and met all of the terms of his/her probation (or sentence). For more serious crimes, i.e., felonies, the juvenile would need to request permission from a judge.
Juveniles under the age of 11 would be excluded from the juvenile criminal justice system.
The new bill would also create a “presumption that youth status was a distinct mitigating factor” in any matter involving a matter, reflecting an acknowledgment by the legislature that the “science” behind the undeveloped adolescent brain is legitimate and must be considered by judges.