Certification Nightmare

When should a juvenile be tried as an adult? In Nevada, the answer is simple: When he uses a gun… or when his friend uses a gun… or when somebody he hardly knows uses a gun. Welcome to the world of Certification, where childhood ends at the age of 13.

A 6-page printed flyer (Issue #27) distributed at the courthouse on July 11, 2007.

The full issue is available here as a PDF File (199k). (Requires Adobe Acrobat or equivalent, already installed on most computers. For authenticity, the newsletter should be printed on canary (yellow) paper.)

Related Links

  • Nevada Law:
    • NRS 62B.390 governs presumptive and discretionary certifications.
    • NRS 62B.330 governs "direct file" cases (excluded from the juvenile system)
  • More links may be added here over the next day or two.

  • Also see our other Newsletters.


  • On July 2, 5 and 6, we made several attempts to contact Karen James, the deputy D.A. who currently handles most certifications. We wanted to talk to her about certifications in general and about the case of Peter and Martin. We visited the reception window several times trying to talk to her. On one occasion, she was in the office, but we were told she was busy. We left two written messages at the window asking her to call us. There was no response.

  • On Monday, July 9, at 7am (two full days before release of this newsletter) we emailed a draft copy of the newsletter (substantially the same as it is now) to both the chief juvenile D.A., Teresa Lowry, and the chief juvenile public defender, Susan Roske. We said that everything in it was changeable and that we welcomed their feedback. Ms. Roske had no corrections, and we did not receive a response from Ms. Lowry.

  • On July 11 (after the newsletter was released) at about 1pm, Ms. Lowry talked to us in the lobby of Family Court. She said that, in fact, the D.A.'s office withdrew 10 certification petitions last year. She said that her office keeps statistics on this.

  • July 11, in the evening, an email correspondent from out of state wrote:

      There's a book, What Happened to Johnnie Jordan about a kid who grows up in foster care--that is, until age 14, when in a burst of incoherent rage he kills his foster mother with an ax. It's a true account. Johnny is charged as an adult. Simultaneously, he is "emancipated" from the child welfare system that raised him. He is an adult, doesn't need to be taken care of anymore. Foster parents, caseworkers--all vanish. The book also explores the fact that where kids who live with parents and get in serious trouble can (in most cases) go to their parents to help. The parents may find the kid a lawyer before any discussions with authorities occur. For a foster kid like Johnny, the "parents" are the authorities, and their primary duty is to the state.

      There is some recent research indicating that cognitive development of most teens up to 16 years old belies the very notion they are competent to understand the proceedings they are involved in--they really are not participating in the adult criminal justice system as an adult would presumably be able to participate....

      The way I see it, though... You have a kid who is either going to experience justice or he is not. You are either going to reinforce whatever sense he has of right and wrong or you are going to mess it up.

  • July 12: As if to respond to our newsletter, a brief editorial in The New York Times says (in full):

      One of Congress's most crucial tasks will be to strengthen and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Passed in 1974, the law required the states to move away from the practice of locking up truants and runaways -- and to refrain from placing children in adult jails -- in exchange for federal grant dollars.

      Congress's goal then was to move the states away from failed policies that often turned young delinquents into hardened criminals and toward a framework based more on mentoring and rehabilitation. But the states have increasingly classified ever larger numbers of young offenders as adults, trying them in adult courts and holding them in adult prisons.

      The damage wrought by these policies is vividly outlined in a federally backed study issued this spring. It reports that children handled in adult courts and confined in adult jails committed more violent crime than children processed through the traditional juvenile justice system. Other studies show that as many as half of the juvenile offenders sent to adult courts were not convicted there -- or were sent back to the juvenile system, but often after spending time in adult lockups. Equally disturbing is the fact that youths of color are more likely to be sent to adult prisons than their white counterparts.

      Reauthorization hearings begin today and members need to listen closely to what the experts are saying. Trying children as adults -- except in isolated cases involving extreme violence -- is both inhumane and counterproductive.

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