Juvenile court went too far barring offender from courthouse

Friday, May 4, 2012

Telling a juvenile offender that he can’t come to a courthouse unless he’s there as a defendant or a witness goes too far, a California appeals court has ruled. The court found that the restriction violated the juvenile’s First Amendment-based right to access the courthouse.

The case involved a juvenile known in court papers as Jose N. After he was arrested for burglary, Jose admitted participation in a criminal street gang and was declared a ward of the state. A juvenile court imposed several probation conditions on Jose, including “You are not to appear in or about any court unless you are party to a proceedings [sic] or have been subpoenaed to appear at a hearing.”

On appeal, Jose contended that this provision was unconstitutionally overbroad and violated the First Amendment. He argued that he would even be prohibited him from attending court if he or one of his family members was a victim of crime.

The California Court of Appeals accepted this argument, writing in its April 23 opinion in In Re Jose N that the juvenile court should have crafted a much narrower probation condition. The appeals court said that the juvenile court should consider that there may be other “legitimate purposes” for the minor to come to court.

Juvenile courts clearly have an obligation to protect people and impose some restrictions on juvenile offenders, particularly if they are affiliated with others who commit crimes. However, the courts should not impose overly broad regulations that would criminalize legitimate, constitutionally protected conduct.

Also see: Court says juvenile-probation rules should be narrow, clear

Blog: Onerous limits on juvenile offenders’ Internet use is bad policy


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