Federal Judge Favors Juvenile Parolees in Due Process Suit

September 20, 2007

By Linda Rapattoni  |  Daily Journal  —  

SACRAMENTO – A federal judge ruled Wednesday the state's parole revocation system for juveniles unconstitutionally denies them their due process rights, and he ordered the state to come up with a new plan within 30 days.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton granted a partial summary judgment motion in a class action filed on behalf of approximately 2,775 juvenile parolees in the state who have been held up to 60 days on allegations they violated the terms of their parole. L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, S062042 LKK/GGH.

Sue Burrell, a lawyer with the Youth Law Center of San Francisco who represents one of the plaintiffs, said Karlton appears to have relied on the same reasoning he used in a case involving adult parolees, Valdivia v. Davis, 94-0671LKK (2002).

Until now, adult parolees had more due process rights than juveniles, said Michael W. Bien, of Rosen, Bien & Asaro, who litigated the Valdivia case and also argued the juvenile parolee case.

"What happens now is a ward will be arrested, incarcerated, not given proper notice of the charges or a hearing, is removed from his family, community, job for extended periods of time before an officer is assigned to his case," Bien said. "That delay, without a hearing, violates the Constitution. The Constitution says when someone is arrested even someone on parole has rights."

The state attorney general's office, which represented the state, could not be reached for immediate comment on the ruling.

Karlton rejected the plaintiffs' request for an injunction that would have required the state to provide probable cause hearings for juvenile parolees within 10 days of their arrest, just as was ordered for adult parolees, saying it was premature.

"Although the due process failures that occur for juvenile parolees are similar to those the court identified in Valdivia, that does not necessarily require identical remedies," Karlton wrote.

In a footnote, he gave the defendants 30 days to offer a plan to address the due process issues.

Although the plaintiffs won a major part of their case, they still plan to pursue other issues at trial, including requiring the state to provide lawyers to represent the youths who have allegedly violated their parole, Bien said.

From 2004 to 2006, one in four parole revocations resulted from technical violations.

"Because of Judge Karlton's prior rulings in Valdivia, we expect the state will rapidly bring the juvenile justice system in compliance with the standard they already are applying to adults," Bien said. "The juveniles are younger, more vulnerable, less able to provide for themselves and yet the state provides them with less due process."

One of the lead plaintiffs, identified only as L.H., served time for robbery and assault and was threatened with having his parole revoked for drinking alcohol at a substance abuse treatment center where he was living, according to court papers.

He was working in an office, was married, but was detained on parole and held more than a month without a preliminary hearing, Burrell said. Because of a file mix-up, the matter was postponed for another three weeks and when the hearing came up, L.H. was forced to represent himself and was sentenced to several more months in custody.

Burrell said that was too harsh, given the progress he had shown

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