‘Juvenile justice’ bill defeated in House

Posted March 23, 2012, at 5:08 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would have permitted police to alert the public about a juvenile’s arrest prior to being charged with any crime was rejected overwhelmingly Friday by the Maine House.

In a 122-14 vote that followed several minutes of passionate debate from both Republicans and Democrats, LD 1727 was defeated. The bill previously had passed through the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

“I’m surprised and delighted to see that common sense and long-standing juvenile justice policy prevailed,” said Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Democrat on that committee. “It is absolutely wrong to put a scarlet letter on a teenager even before they’ve been charged or found guilty.”

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, also urged his colleagues to defeat the measure.

“As a former prosecutor and complaint justice, I am very concerned about this bill,” he said. “I have not charged people based upon a police report or not issued an arrest warrant or search warrant based upon a police officer’s request. In our society, we protect children.

“Being a teenager is tough today, I have a teenager, I know. In fact, today we have too much information out there today on juveniles, just look on Facebook or Twitter.”

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, and endorsed by Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris.

A number of groups opposed the measure during the public hearing on the bill, including the Maine Criminal Law Advisory Commission, Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, Maine Prosecutor’s Association and the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

Still, it passed through committee.

However, during Friday’s floor debate in the House, Republicans and Democrats argued that the bill reverses long-standing public policy to protect juveniles who are arrested until they are actually charged with a crime.

The fear was that a juvenile might forever be tied to the offense alleged by the arresting officer rather than the crime he or she actually is charged with.

“Prosecutors may charge the juvenile with a different crime after reviewing all of the evidence, but this disclosure bill does not address that,” Haskell said. “Once this information is out, given Facebook and social media communication, this becomes a permanent impact on the juvenile’s life.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine applauded the bill’s rejection in the House.

The majority of the House understood that preserving confidentiality until the petition is filed — as is current law — makes sense,” wrote Alysia Melnick, public policy counsel for ACLU of Maine after the vote. “It provides one layer of scrutiny to determine whether there is enough evidence to even charge the arrested teen or reasons to maintain confidentiality before exposing them to life-destroying allegations.”

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