Gun Rights, Gun Control and a Local Push to Tax Guns and Their Ammo

Ambitious and certain to draw criticism, President Barack Obama’s plan to rid the nation of the most powerful weapons on the market and attempt to arrest mass and everyday shootings was expected by Congress Wednesday, marking a sharp turn in a decades-long fight to curb America’s gun violence. As the debate was playing out in Washington, several local and national leaders gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday evening to discuss guns and policy, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city holds the dubious “murder capital” title, among the group and pushing sweeping gun control legislation that cracks down on assault weapons. Also on the panel was Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who this week said that the National Rifle Association’s recent assertion that Congress would not enact the sort of change that Obama and others were pressing, was off base. In fact, he said, real legislation will squeeze through the legislative process and signal real change in the nation’s laws and gun dialogue. Also in attendance was the head of the University of Chicago CrimeLab, who noted that while the United States has managed to improve its count of more common crime – property theft, etc.

Roster of Exonerations Shows the Particular Vulnerability of Juveniles Under Questioning

Carl Williams was 17 years old when Cook County police arrested him in January of 1994. Williams was charged with two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault. He confessed to the crime after a police interrogation and along with four co-defendants, Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1996. Now, 18 years later, Williams, who claims he is innocent, has been granted an evidentiary hearing and a re-sentencing by the 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois. “The case of the wrong Carl” is a prime example of change in the way Illinois judges view confessions, said Steven Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions – and co-founder of the Center on Wrong Convictions of Youth – at the Northwestern University School of Law. The Cook County justice system interrogates its juveniles as they do its adults.  And the center is quite certain that of the 100-plus juveniles currently serving life without parole sentences in the state, many of their convictions were based on false confessions.

To Keep Kids Out of the System, We Need Community Involvement

Most of the teenagers walking into my courtroom were 1st or 2nd time visitors.  They didn’t want to return, and we worked with them and their parents to make that first visit their last one. However, some kids need more support and intervention to change their life trajectories from negative to positive. After seeing the same teens in court year after year, judges wonder what it will take to change the behaviors that keep bringing them back into court. Short of sending a youth off to a state prison, the options usually available to juvenile court judges include stern lectures and warnings, mandated community service, assessment and rehabilitative services, and electronic monitoring. Sometimes judges reach a point where everything has been tried at least once, and yet the youth is again back in court with a new offense.  When that happens, will the judge leave the youth with his or her family and try for rehabilitation again?

Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Hailed As Win for Juveniles

The Illinois Supreme Court has shot down a controversial practice that was the norm in the state’s juvenile courts for years, despite outcry that minors were not being treated fairly under state laws meant to protect their status as juveniles. The court found that a lawyer’s second role as a guardian ad litem—an advocate for minors in court proceedings who pledges to act in the child’s “best interest”—may have inhibited him from providing his client with a zealous defense in a sexual abuse case. Austin M.’s conviction was overturned by the court, which cited that a per se, or inherent, conflict of interest occurred when his lawyer decided to act as a guardian ad litem and declared that he was seeking the truth, “the same as the court and the same as the prosecutor.”

Some legal experts hailed the decision saying it was clear-cut under the due process clause and legal precedents in juvenile delinquency cases. “Lawyers have a duty of confidentiality, a loyalty to their client that is compromised when they wear two hats; to begin to think of [themselves] as a ‘best interest’ lawyer,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. Lawyers are either appointed by the court as guardians ad litem for their juvenile clients or choose to identify themselves as such, usually when the defendant’s parents do not appear during trials.