State v. B.O.J.

Juvenile Law Center, in collaboration with ACLU of Washington, Legal Voice, and Columbia Legal Services filed an amicus brief in the Washington Supreme Court on behalf of B.O.J., who was sentenced to up to a year of incarceration for misdemeanor larceny charges. The lower court relied heavily on B.O.J.'s history of running away from placements, her dependency status and need for treatment to justify departing from the standard sentencing range and imposing a lengthy term of incarceration.

Our brief argued that the court impermissibly considered B.O.J.'s gender and dependency status, in direct contradiction to Washington State statute, resulting in an inappropriate lengthy term of incarceration for very minor offenses. Our brief highlighted research demonstrating that girls, particularly girls of color and those involved in both the delinquency and dependency systems, are often punished more severely by courts, under the justification of providing treatment and protection, than their male peers for the same or more severe offenses. We further argued that contrary to providing treatment and rehabilitation, lengthy incarceration undermines public safety by increasing recidivism and exacerbating criminality. 

In a separate amicus brief, Team Child and Mockingbird presented arguments regarding the effective and appropriate community alternatives that the court failed to consider.

In an important win for youth, The Washington Supreme Court held that "[t]he trial court abused its discretion in basing its [upward departure] finding on [a juvenile's] need for substance abuse and mental health treatment. A juvenile does not usually pose a serious, and clear danger to society merely because they need treatment." The court further noted, "[w]e base our holding on the plain, unambiguous language of the statute, not on the basis of empirical studies. Nonetheless, we do not make decisions in a vacuum, and the studies cited by B.O.J. and amici offer a cautionary tale against imposing lengthy sentences over standard range dispositions with the hope of improving outcomes for juvenile defendants."