10 Things States Got Right in Youth Defense
by Kristina “KK” Kersey, Sr. Youth Defense Counsel
Some people collect shot glasses or magnets from their travels. Me, I collect enviable local youth defense jurisprudence.
*Due to Covid restrictions, these states were visited via Zoom.
Despite what my research—reading Twilight (Team Jacob)—led me to expect, my trip to Washington was devoid of both vampires and werewolves. It was, however, rich in beauty: the giant evergreen trees, the fog over Puget Sound, the caffeine. But nothing as gorgeous as the state’s deposition rule. While talking trial prep with seasoned Washington youth defenders, they casually mentioned depositions in youth trials. Suffice to say, I was jealous.
Geographically the largest and the most sparsely populated, Alaska could easily raise opposition to the right to physical presence of youth in court. I mean, they are taking planes to court. Is that Russia I see in the distance? No, it’s the Northern Lights of Justice, highlighting the Alaska Court Rule that requires the right to physical presence. As we emerge from the pandemic, I do not want to hear some tiny state preaching judicial economy. If Alaska can do it, so can you, Rhode Island.
Well, call Bernie, knit me a pair of gloves, and seat me at the Inauguration, because I. am.here.for.it. You’ve read the research: brains are mushy until at least age 25. Vermont expanded their juvenile court jurisdiction up to age 19 in 2020 and will raise it to age 20 effective July 1, 2022. Of course, this comes with some ifs and buts attached, but still a good sign states are starting to listen to what research has been screaming at us. Green Mountain State, I am green with envy.
Kansas has the right to jury trials for youth. The Sixth Amendment promises a jury of your peers; J.D.B. established the reasonable child standard. Could Kansas establish trials for youth by youth? If sophomore-year English class with Lord of the Flies taught me anything, it’s that: 1. Conch shells are incredibly important and 2. Perhaps autonomous decision-making by children isn’t a laudable goal. However, I also saw The Breakfast Club, and I would hope that after an afternoon in youth jury deliberation, we would all learn that each of us is a princess, a jock, an outcast . . . . until then, I will be pumping one fist in the air for Kansas for jury trials in juvenile court.
Maryland defenders are developing and piloting a specialized certification program for youth defenders, and just like Old Bay Seasoning, it’s unique, spicy, and distinctly Maryland. However, unlike Old Bay Seasoning, I love it. Love the idea. Love the concept. Love specialized youth defenders.
When I was little, my mom frequently made meatloaf. It was the 80s, and I’m sure I’m not the only one with this childhood memory. However, I hate hate hate meatloaf. So on days when my mom made meatloaf for the rest of my family, she would make me a separate dinner of Kersey Burgers. Now, Kersey Burgers were delish. And I was embarrassingly old when it was revealed to me that Kersey Burgers were just patties of meatloaf.
Readers, sometimes it’s okay to lie to children. Oftentimes it is not. Like when you have them in custody and want to put them in jail. Youth lie to police, it’s potential obstruction or false swearing charges. Police lie to youth, it’s sound police investigation using the Reid technique. But Illinois is serving something different, and it ain’t meatloaf. Illinois has become the first state to prohibit police from lying to children during interrogation. Kersey Burgers for everyone!
The UN has called for nations to adopt a minimum age of prosecution of at least 14, and North Carolina is currently set at six. So there may be no Santa Claus in North Carolina, but Massachusetts is on my nice list for setting the minimum age of prosecution at 12. Better yet, they are at the top of the list for setting this standard without any loopholes or exceptions!
Defenders at interrogation for all children under 18. Boom. That is a game changer. Like Sandy-at-the-end-of-Grease-in-shiny-black-pants game changer. “Tell me about it, stud.” Actually, don’t. Because you have the right to remain silent.
- New Jersey
I’m feeling the high of marijuana decriminalization for youth, and I have a hankering for Taylor ham, egg, and cheese. (South Jerseyans, do not start with the whole it’s called pork roll. This is a professional piece, not an Eagles game, and I don’t want to fight with you.)
New Jersey goes further than any other state to protect youth from MJ juvenile court involvement, even adding a provision to forbid police from telling parents about the first time a kid is caught smoking weed. That lasted for 31 whole days before every parent in the state called Trenton and demanded it be removed. HOWEVER, the new New Jersey laws are clear that the smell of MJ by itself does not establish reasonable suspicion to stop or probable cause to conduct a search for possession, including low-level intent to distribute. Say goodbye to the “odor of raw and burnt green vegetative substance” police reports!
Ever since T-Pain rhymed mansion with Wisconsin, I’ve wanted to visit America’s Dairyland. And Madison and La Crosse are cream of the crop (see what I did there?) when it comes to defunding police in schools and re-funding restorative justice and social work. These conversations aren’t easy, but conducting a district evaluation of the SRO program and recognizing that “markers of the school-to-prison pipeline” existed in their schools and that it was disproportionately impacting students of color is a pretty amazing start.
Disclaimer: I know there are other states with similar provisions that were not mentioned. This list is limited to states I’ve visited. Hopefully, NJDC will be coming to your state soon.
 Wash. CRR. 4.6.
 Alaska Delinquency R. 3(b), (e). See also Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.110 (West).
 Vt. Stat. Ann. tit §33 5201(d). See also Act 201 (S.234) https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2018/Docs/ACTS/ACT201/ACT201%20As%20Enacted.pdf.
 Kan. Stat. Ann. § 38-2357(a)(1) (West).
 J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 131 S. Ct. 2394 (2011).
 Award # 2018-ZE-FX-0001, Department of Justice Appropriations Act (2018) Pub. L. No. 115Â141, 132 Stat. 348, 423, https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/funding/awards/2018-ze-fx-0001.
 2021 Bill Text IL S.B. 2122.
 Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 119, § 52 (West). See also Minimum Age for Delinquency Adjudication—Multi-Jurisdiction Survey, Nat’l Juvenile Def. Ctr. (2021), http://defendyouthrights.org/practice-policy-resources/state-profiles/multi-jurisdiction-data/minimum-age-for-delinquency-adjudication-multi-jurisdiction-survey/.
 Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 625.6 (West).
 2020 Bill Text NJ S.B. 3565. See also N.J. Stat. § 2C:33-15 (1)(a).
 N.J. Stat. § 2C:33-15 (2)-(3).
 Sarah Schwartz, Stephen Sawchuk, Eesha Pendharkar, & Ileana Najarro, These Districts Defunded Their School Police. What Happened Next?, EducationWeek: School Climate & Safety (June 4, 2021), https://www.edweek.org/leadership/these-districts-defunded-their-school-police-what-happened-next/2021/06.