Injustice for sale — Judges jail children for money

February 24, 2009

Two judges pled guilty in Pennsylvania last week to putting children in jail for money. The Judges accepted more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers to unnecessarily long sentences.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, pled guilty in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pursuant to plea bargains with the United States Attorney’s office. They admitted that they had accepted payoffs from PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare between 2003 and 2006. They are each facing up to seven years in prison.

The scam worked like this: The judges sent juveniles to the detention center so the company running the facility received money from the county government to pay costs of the incarceration. Thus, as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government.

The judges sentenced the children to more severe sentences that required incarceration in order to generate more money. Teenagers who were sentenced by Judge Ciavarella in juvenile court were sentenced to detention centers for minor offenses that ordinarily would have been classified as misdemeanors, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group. One seventeen-year-old boy was sentenced to three month’s detention for being in the company of another minor who was caught shoplifting. Others were given similar sentences for simple assault in which the charges stemmed form a scuffle in the school yard, and these would ordinarily merit only a warning.

Although the juveniles were guaranteed the right to a lawyer in court, many of them appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney because the probation service personnel told them that their charges were so minor that they didn’t need an attorney.

The chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, Marsha Levick, estimated that of approximately 5,000 juveniles who appeared before Judge Ciavarella from 2003 and 2006, between 1,000 and 2,000 received excessively harsh detention sentences. She said the center intends to sue the judges, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare to obtain money damages for their juveniles victims.

Prosecutors were quoted as saying “That judges would allow their greed to trump the rights of defendants is just obscene.” That is always so, but it is especially so here where the defendants were so young and vulnerable. This is an extremely vicious crime because it strikes at the integrity of the system, but it appears even more vicious when considering how young lives may have been damaged so severely, taken from school and parents, put into a detention center where there are likely young predators waiting for someone to prey on.

The judges tried to hide their ill-gotten income from this scheme by creating false records and rouging payments through intermediaries. “Your statement that I have disgraced my judgship is true,” Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. “My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Conahan had no comment to make.

Ciavarella and Conahan were removed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as judges when the charges were filed in federal court, and the Supreme Court appointed a judge to review all the cases involved.

Again, we have an instance where innocent people are falsely persecuted. It certainly indicates the need for a defense lawyer who can be the legal advocate in protecting the rights of the accused, even for something that seems minor, at first blush. It’s very possible that many of these children sentenced did not have an attorney because it seemed their situation was such a minor offense but that just made it easier for the judges to get away with this injustice.

Consequently, it’s always advisable to seek advice from a competent criminal attorney, when you or your child is charged with any kind of criminal, even petty, act. Get educated on how to choose the best lawyer and discover how to avoid common mistakes by going to my website at

The Next Drug Fad for Parents to Watch Out for

December 5, 2008

There’s a new drug fad called Snurf.

It’s not illegal. Yet. It is supposed to be a herbal remedy, and it is becoming popular with teenagers. And its use is spreading from ninth and tenth grade users to middle schoolers. It can be purchased legally over the internet with a credit card under a number of names, including “legal ecstasy.” The sales claim Snurf contains herbs like Feviza, Palenzia and De la Amazon. Unfortunately, such herbs are non-existent, and Snurf is a synthetic morphine analog.

Research on Snurf indicates it consists almost entirely of the non-herbal dextromethorphan or DXM, the active suppressant ingredient in cough syrup like Robitussin. In large doses, DXM has hallucinogenic properties and can significantly impair the user. Ingestion of too much DXM can cause impairments of the visual field, dissociation, excitement, and feelings of bodily distortion. Some online blogs describe the effects of Snurf to taking LSD (lysergic acid dyethelamide) or Ecstasy.

Thus Snurf is, in fact, legal, and it pretends to be ‘herbal”, giving it respectability to new users. What its effects are, especially when mixed with other substances, is unknown. What if someone uses Snurf along with an antihistamine? Or with alcohol? There is no telling what could happen, but the average Snurf user will not consider any of these possibilities.

DXM, the main ingredient of Snurf, acts to depress the central nervous system, but the average user does not bother to learn this, so obvious troubles may not be avoided. The side effects of taking Snurf include rashes and trouble breathing, while the most frequent complaint is nausea, all benign enough. It will probably take some tragic interaction of Snurf with some other substance before parents are alerted to the potential dangers of taking Snurf.

Should the Legal Drinking Age be Lowered?

September 8, 2008

A group of college presidents is urging the lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18.  They say current laws encourage binge drinking on college campuses.  The college presidents number about 100, and they represent some of the best known universities, like Dartmouth, Duke, and Ohio State University.  Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse are also members.  They actually form a movement.  It’s called the Amethyst Initiative.

They are facing determined opposition from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who say lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car wrecks.  MADD also accuses the college presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem.  MADD officials address parents when they claim the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at the campuses of the presidents who are part of the movement, saying parents should be careful in sending their children to those schools.

Both the college presidents and MADD agree that alcohol abuse by college students is a problem.  Some research has found more than forty percent of college students have reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependance.  One study estimated more than one-half million full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, including about 1,700 who die in accidents.

Other college presidents disagree with the Initiative.  Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami refused to sign the Amethyst Initiative.  She was Secretary of Health and Human Services  during the Clinton administration.  “To just shift [the drinking age] back down to the high schools makes no sense at all,” she said.

No Oklahoma college presidents are members of the Amethyst Initiative.  Both the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have strict laws prohibiting the use of alcohol on campus.  After the alcohol-related death of a fraternity pledge in 2004, the University of Oklahoma enacted a three-strikes policy that can lead to a student’s suspension.

“Since we adopted our alcohol policy three years ago, alcohol-related offenses have been reduced by almost 50 %, “ O.U. President David Boren.  He and Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said they had not been asked to sign the Amethyst Initiative and had no plans to sign it.  President Hargis speaks to fraternities and sororities about alcohol awareness.

Of course, there is the obvious argument that young people are allowed to serve (and die) for our country at age 18, vote, marry, and generally, be responsible as an adult at that age ……so why shouldn’t it be legal for them to drink then also? However, the results of lower deaths and accidents for 18 to 21 year olds is evidence of the benefits of keeping the legal age at 21. And even though reducing the drinking age would likely produce more clients needing a criminal defense lawyer….that’s not my goal. I’d much rather see young people have that extra time to mature before being faced with learning how to handle the issues of drinking responsibly.  These issues are difficult enough for older adults, and I know every individual is different — with some more responsible than others at any age…. but, if the older drinking age saves lives and keeps more people from going to jail and ruining their lives I’m all for that.

If however, you or someone you care about is charged with an alcohol related offense, such as DUI or DWI, you should equip yourself with as much education about the process as possible, including learning how to avoid common mistakes, how to choose the right lawyer, and other critical issues. That’s why I encourage you to visit my site at to become educated on these issues. I’ve even added a couple of free videos in the library tab that will be very informative for someone accused of a crime. So be sure and check those out before making any decisions that can forever affect your life.

Juvenile Prison Problems and Remedies

December 1, 2007

Juvenile offenders, when incarcerated, are kept separate from adult offenders for obvious reasons.  And the criminal justice process for juvenile offenders is also different than for adults.  The whole premise for the juvenile justice set of laws is that juveniles are presumed to be able to be rehabilitated before they turn adults, and keeping them apart from those adults accused of crimes is part of the separation.  Adults adjudged guilty of crimes are punished by simply locking them up in prison.  Adult misdemeanants are kept in county jails to serve their sentences.  Juvenile offenders are kept in juvenile facilities.

But the juvenile housing system is running out of room.  Gene Christian, director of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, says “we’re going to run up against a brick wall”.  The head of the Juvenile Justice Center, Associate District Judge Richard Kirby, recently moved about a dozen youthful offenders from the juvenile detention center to the Oklahoma County Jail, an adult facility.  When this action was appealed, an appeals court ordered the teens back to the juveniles detention center, the population exceeded its 80-person capacity.  That is the reason Judge Kirby ordered the youthful offenders out of the juvenile detention center.

The courts have required that the juvenile justice center maintain a ratio of one staff member per 10 teens during the day and one staff to 12 teens at night.  Because not enough of these staff positions have remained filled, even though there is money to pay for more staff, not enough people want the jobs.  The number of available beds for youthful offenders and juvenile delinquents has therefore had to be reduced.  The system is supposed to be able to give youthful offenders a mix of punishment and rehabilitation.  Both options are needed, Judge Kirby said.  But, without the facilities to keep them, the juvenile justice system has had to simply “warehouse them in prison”, one official said.

The entire juvenile justice system is designed to turn youth who break the law away from a life of crime before it is too late.  Isn’t that where we should put more of our public resources?  The expense of housing lifetime criminals in prison is much more money and lives wasted.

There are 1.5 million people in prison in the United States today with another 750,000 in the jails of the nation.  An increase of 192,000 prisoners is projected in the next five years nationally, and this will cost $27,500,000,000 to build and operate these additional prisons.  Why not take these billions and spend them on a better-funded system of juvenile justice to keep as many of these juveniles from costing the country so much in housing dollars, apart from all other considerations?