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Case Name DOJ Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court CJ-MO-0019
Docket / Court docket unknown ( No Court )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
On November 18, 2013, the DOJ opened its investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court in Missouri. This investigation was initiated pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek remedies for ... read more >
On November 18, 2013, the DOJ opened its investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court in Missouri. This investigation was initiated pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek remedies for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional or federal statutory rights of children in the administration of juvenile justice.

The DOJ investigated whether the St. Louis County Family Court failed to ensure that children appearing for juvenile justice proceedings received adequate due process, as required under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and whether it engaged in conduct that violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The DOJ examined 33,000 cases, including all delinquency and status offenses resolved in the St. Louis County Family Court from 2010 to 2013. The investigators interviewed court personnel such as judges, juvenile officers, and directors of delinquency services, as well as attorneys and parents of young people involved in delinquency proceedings.

On July 31, 2015, the DOJ released a findings letter which concluded that the St. Louis County Family Court violated the 14th Amendment by failing to ensure that juveniles facing delinquency charges received adequate due process protections and failing to provide African-American youth in the juvenile justice system with equal protection under the law.

Specifically, the DOJ found that the Court failed to provide adequate representation for children in delinquency proceedings, in violation of the Due Process Clause; failed to adequately protect children's privilege against self-incrimination; failed to provide adequate probable cause determinations to children facing delinquency charges; failed to provide children facing certification to be criminally tried in adult criminal court with adequate due process; failed to ensure that children's guilty pleas were entered knowingly and voluntarily, in violation of children's rights under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Additionally, the DOJ found that the Court engaged in conduct that violated the constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection under the law: black children were disproportionately represented in decisions to: formally charge youth instead of handling matters more informally; detain youth pretrial; commit youth, under existing Court supervision, to Division of Youth Services custody; and place youth in a secure Division of Youth Services facility after conviction. The letter concluded that black children were subjected to harsher treatment because of their race.

For example, black children were almost 1.46 times more likely than white children to have their cases handled formally, even after introducing control variables such as gender, age, risk factors, and severity of the allegation. When black children were under the supervision of the Court and violate the conditions equivalent to probation or parole, the Court committed black children almost three times more to the Missouri Division of Youth Services than white children who were under similar Court supervision.

The DOJ also found several factors that contributed to the court's constitutional deprivation of counsel for youth. Among them were "staggering" caseloads of the public defenders 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, and significant delays in appointing counsel to children following detention hearings.

Also, the DOJ found the structure of St. Louis County Family Court to be conflicted. The findings included: "The roles of judge, prosecutor and probation officer are blurred, and positions traditionally held by members of the executive branch are filled by employees who answer to the court's judges. These conflicts of interest are contrary to separation of powers principles and deprive children of adequate due process."

On December 14, 2016, after 16 months of negotiation, the DOJ reached an agreement with the St. Louis Family Court about how to reform the court’s handling of juvenile delinquency matters. The agreement included several measures to address the court’s due process and equal protection deficiencies.

Specifically, the Court agreed to double the number of defense attorneys that represent indigent youth, and ensure that defendants get counsel in a timely fashion; undergo specific juvenile defense training for attorneys; establish a clear policy for determining whether a defendant is considered indigent; prohibit police from interrogating defendants at the juvenile detention center unless an attorney is present; prohibit deputy juvenile officers from talking about the case with the defendant, or using incriminating statements the defendant might make in later hearings; conduct probable cause hearings to make sure that there is evidence the child actually committed the offense for which he or she is being charged; standardize plea hearings to ensure that all guilty pleas are made knowingly and voluntarily.

The agreement is to last until substantive provisions are achieved and the court has maintained substantial compliance for 12 months.

Ginny Lee - 04/07/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Due Process
Equal Protection
Self-incrimination
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Goals and Timekeeping
Monitoring
Recordkeeping
Reporting
Required disclosure
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Classification / placement
Conflict of interest
Disciplinary procedures
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Juveniles
Pattern or Practice
Placement in detention facilities
Record-keeping
Race
Black
Special Case Type
Out-of-court
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 14141
Defendant(s) St. Louis County Family Court
Plaintiff Description DOJ
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2016 - 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Data examining the Department of Justice's civil rights investigations of local and state police departments
Marshall Project
Date: Jan. 17, 2017
By: Tom Meagher (Marshall Project)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  What Happens When Police Are Forced to Reform?
Date: Nov. 13, 2015
By: Kimbriell Kelly, Sarah Childress and Steven Rich (Frontline/Post)
Citation: Washington Post (Nov. 13, 2015)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Philadelphia Forfeiture
http://ij.org/case/philadelphia-forfeiture/
Date: Aug. 11, 2014
By: Institute for Justice (Institute for Justice)
[ Detail ]

  Federal Enforcement of Police Reform
Date: 2014
By: Stephen Rushin (University of Illinois College of Law, University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program )
Citation: 82 Fordham Law Review 3189 (2014)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court St. Louis, Missouri
CJ-MO-0019-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 07/31/2015
Source: U.S. Dep't of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement
Re: Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court
CJ-MO-0019-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 07/31/2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States Department of Justice and the St. Louis County Family Court
CJ-MO-0019-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 12/14/2016
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cuncannan, Jacqueline (District of Columbia)
CJ-MO-0019-0002
Gupta, Vanita (District of Columbia)
CJ-MO-0019-0002 | CJ-MO-0019-0003
Jackson, Shelley (District of Columbia)
CJ-MO-0019-0002
Jansen, Regina (District of Columbia)
CJ-MO-0019-0002
Lynch, Loretta (New York)
CJ-MO-0019-0002
Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia)
CJ-MO-0019-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Dandurand, Joesph Paul (Missouri)
CJ-MO-0019-0002

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