ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOX) – The St. Louis County Family Court is coming under intense fire from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Being released this morning are findings from a department investigation, which began in November of 2013, that accuse the court of treating blacks more harshly than whites, denying youth their constitutional rights, and coercing confessions.
– St. Louis County Family Court fails to provide adequate representation for children in delinquency proceedings, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The staggering caseload of the sole public defender assigned to handle all indigent juvenile delinquency cases in the county, an arbitrary system of appointing private attorneys for children who do not qualify for public defender services, the flawed structure of the family court, and significant delays in appointing counsel to children following detention hearings are all factors that contribute to this constitutional deprivation of counsel.
– St. Louis County Family Court fails to adequately protect children’s privilege against self-incrimination. The family court’s requirement that a child admit to the allegations to be eligible for an informal processing of his case is coercive, and potentially forces a child to be a witness against himself in subsequent proceedings.
– Black children are almost one-and-a-half times more likely than white children to have their cases handled formally, rather than through diversion or other means.
– Black youth are two-and-a-half times more likely to be held in custody pretrial than white children.
The department says while concerns about juvenile justice systems around the country, St. Louis County stands out.
The DOJ says it will try to resolve the issues through a mutual agreement, but isn’t ruling out legal action.
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