As if to signify just how corrupt and defiled the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system had become, yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took an unprecedented step and vacated the sentences of nearly 7000 children who had been adjudicated as delinquent. The children had appeared before former judge Mark Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008. Over that five year period Ciavarella had routinely disregarded the constitutional rights of the juveniles appearing before him, sentencing many to time at a privately-operated correctional facility in exchange for kickbacks from facility.
Once the corruption became known the Pennsylvania court appointed a special master to review the transcripts of thousands of individual cases. That review disclosed a systematic failure by Ciavarella to determine whether a juvenile’s waiver of the right to counsel was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily tendered, to advise the juvenile of the charges against them, and an overall lack of fundamental due process that the court described as “inimical to any system of justice and made even more grievous since these matters involved juveniles.”
Considering the damage done to Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system, and considering the mountains of evidence of corruption, vacating the sentences of those children who appeared before Ciavarella was really the only option before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court if there was to be any restoration of faith in a process that had clearly failed these kids. Many believe this is the most serious judicial scandal in the history of the United States and it is refreshing to see it treated as such. We can only hope that the damage done to the juveniles through exposure to systematic fraud and abuse of power was not permanent, because if it was, then no remedy is sufficient.
photo courtesy of bredgur via Flickr
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