Juvenile Justice

Out of 257 Chicago-area juveniles charged as adults over a 2-year period, 1 was white

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Out of 257 Cook County, Ill., cases between 2010 and 2012 where juveniles were charged as adults, one involved a white defendant, according to a study (PDF) released Tuesday by the Juvenile Justice Initiative. Eighty-three percent of the defendants were black, and most of the cases in the study were from Chicago’s west and south sides.

Illinois has automatic transfer laws, the Associated Press reports, for juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17 accused of murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery with a firearm, or aggravated criminal sexual assault. Legislation is pending in the General Assembly that would eliminate the automatic transferring and give judges more discretion based on hearings that detail the defendants’ situations.

The legislation was before the Illinois House Judiciary Committee in March, the AP reports, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office testified against it.

According to the study, juveniles tried as adults spent a year or more in detention while waiting for trial. And in 54 percent of the cases, the juvenile pleaded guilty to a lesser charge that wouldn’t have triggered the automatic transfer to adult court.

According to Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, juveniles are questioned by police without lawyers, and their statements are used to charge them as adults. Those who enter pleas are then sentenced without a trial or sentencing hearing. “At no point do they really get a day in court,” she told the AP. “This is a wholesale throwing kids away at the point of arrest, essentially.”

Illinois is one of 14 states that has automatic transfer laws for juvenile offenders, the article states.

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