Juvenile Law Center

Brian

When Brian Larkin was thirteen, he took the stand as a witness in Judge Mark Ciavarella’s courtroom in Luzerne County Pennsylvania. He claimed that, after another youth assaulted him, he did not hit the youth, but another witness claimed that he did. Judge Mark Ciavarella in Luzerne County Pennsylvania threatened to investigate the situation to determine if Brian had lied under oath, and Brian, a member of his middle school band and football team, was summoned back to court for making a false statement.

The judge expected Brian, at age 13, to cross-examine witnesses and call his own witnesses in his defense. Without the benefit of an attorney, Brian was adjudicated delinquent for perjury, led away in shackles, and assigned to three months at Camp Adams ... where he received no education to compensate for missing school.

The 14th Amendment guarantees basic rights to those accused of a crime, including the right to a notification of the charges, the right to confront witnesses, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to counsel. In the landmark 1967 case In re Gault, the U.S. Supreme Court found that juveniles accused of a crime, like adults, must be afforded these privileges. But in April 2006, Brian Larkin stood without counsel before Judge Ciavarella. Appearing without an attorney, Brian pleaded not guilty. The district attorney called witnesses to testify against Brian and asked the witnesses questions. The judge expected Brian, at age 13, to cross-examine witnesses and call his own witnesses in his defense. Without the benefit of an attorney, Brian was adjudicated delinquent for perjury, led away in shackles, and assigned to three months at Camp Adams, a juvenile residential center where he received no education to compensate for missing school. Moreover, with a record of delinquency, Brian would now likely face difficulties finding a job or joining the military.

Juvenile Law Center learned that unjust hearings like Brian’s were widespread in Ciavarella’s courtroom. Accordingly, we convinced the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to vacate and expunge the records of all youth involved in these unlawful proceedings, and filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of kids like Brian who suffered collateral emotional and financial consequences. Ciavarella himself was subsequently tried and convicted for criminal misconduct.

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