Friday, 4 November 2011

Questions arise on release of juvenile information

NEW CASTLE — The Jordan Brown homicide case has focused local attention on the issue of juveniles and illegal acts.

Among other things, there are questions and controversies over the names of juveniles appearing in print after they are accused of assorted offenses. Some of the court rules involving these matters are confusing and seemingly contradictory. And from the perspective of the New Castle News, there are sometimes complaints about what we publish.

If you are a regular reader of the court records that run most days in The News, you will sometimes see the names of juveniles listed among the adults. Typically, these are for what are known as summary offenses, issues ranging from tobacco use to harassment and disorderly conduct that are classified as matters that are less serious than felonies or misdemeanors.

Under Pennsylvania law, there are circumstances when juveniles can be tried as adults. An example of this cropped up last week, when a boy was charged as an adult in a Hickory Township shooting incident from last year. His name and the charges against him became a matter of public record.

Not so a second juvenile involved in the case. The filing against him was as a juvenile and is not public record.

So how do the names of juveniles wind up in the paper for seemingly minor offenses? Under the law, summary citations are public record regardless of the age of the individual involved. And here at The News, our policy is to publish all of these citations.

Every now and then I get a call — usually from a parent — complaining about this policy. Sometimes, the legality of publishing the names of juveniles is questioned.

It’s worth noting that restrictions on the release of court information regarding juveniles is directed at government, not at the press. Technically and legally, we are free to publish any information that comes our way, whether it deals with a juvenile or not.

In these instances, I assure the callers that what we are publishing is part of the public record. This is important, because these same callers frequently declare that by printing information about the juveniles, The News is releasing harmful information that will follow them through their adult lives.

The problem with that argument is that we merely are reproducing what is already publicly available. If someone has a citation filed against him — even as a juvenile — a serious search of his record will uncover that information, whether it appears in a newspaper or not.

I have to admit I don’t completely understand Pennsylvania’s logic of releasing information of summary offenses against juveniles, but not doing so when the cases are more serious. But then again, I am baffled by a legal system that charges 11-year-old Jordan Brown with double homicide as an adult, then spends two and a half highly publicized years deciding whether his case should be transferred to juvenile court.

And now that he is considered a juvenile, the argument is made that the proceedings involving Jordan are private. It’s a puzzle.

No comments:

Post a Comment