Defense attorneys are furious about a plan to require juvenile criminal suspects in Marin County to sit inside “glass cages” during court proceedings. The lawyers say the proposal is unnecessary and unconstitutional.
The plan would include building a rectangular box — equipped with speakers and a microphone — inside the county’s only juvenile courtroom. The structure would be made out of tempered glass with a small opening through which court papers could be passed.
“I have never heard of this being done in juvenile court,” said Sue Burrell, an attorney at the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. “The only place was once when there was some dreaded adult defendant in Los Angeles.”
The plan would apply to all juvenile suspects who are incarcerated at the time of their court proceedings, regardless of the nature of their alleged offenses.
“Let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of high-end crime in Marin,” said defense attorney James Nielsen of Alternate Defenders, Inc. “But we’re going to treat them like animals even if they’re in for vandalism.”
Late last month, Kim Turner, the executive officer for Marin County Superior Court, sent a memo to Nielsen. The memo included blueprints for the structure and explained the court’s intention to build it.
Nielsen and other lawyers said the plan was created without consulting lawyers who represent juvenile suspects.
“I let her know that we were pretty much unanimously objecting to the construction and that we would like to have a meeting,” Nielsen said. “She basically responded saying, no meetings necessary, and things were going to proceed according to her plans.”
Turner did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Critics have called the plan an affront to the dignity of minors in the court system, and said placing juveniles behind glass could alter how judges and others in the courtroom perceive them — and possibly impact the outcome of cases.
Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela thinks the plan is, in part, a cost-saving measure — a way to do without a bailiff in the courtroom — after the state cut $350 million from California’s court system on July 1.
“We’re running into a budget crunch that makes it difficult to have a bailiff out there,” Valera said.
Ron Ravani, a Marin County deputy district attorney, said his office had no comment on how the plan might help or hurt minors and their cases.
“We’ve been told that the courtroom is unsafe,” he said. “We’ll work with the courts in providing a safe environment.”