Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Homeless Beatings -- A Dangerous and Scary "Trend" for Teens

CNN.com's lead story today is about teen "sport killings" of homeless people. (Read Article.)

This is an account of the frightening and disturbing trend of teens attacking homeless people and sometimes killing them. The article's list of attacks is a shocking and disturbing list of senseless violence. The homeless in these cases did not pose a threat (in fact one was shot from a roof), and the homeless in most likelihood didn't have a fortune to steal.

These juveniles don't seem to have any foresight -- they seem to lack compassion, and they seem inhuman. A rash of juvenile crime is usually what has made U.S. society ratchet up the penalties for juveniles. It is this sort of behavior by juveniles that makes officials and the general public hesitant about giving juveniles the opportunity to be tried in juvenile court (as opposed to adult criminal courts).

In an interesting twist, these attacks are a perfect example of why the Supreme Court decided to find the execution of juvenile offenders unconstitutional. (Roper v. Simmons, 2005.) In Roper, the Court relied -- at least in part -- on the very reasons why these juveniles do such heinous crimes. These juveniles were immature, stupid, irresponsible, susceptible to peer pressure, self-centered, and ignorant of future repercussions. Science indicates that there are physical and psychological reasons for juveniles to act in this way. Juveniles' brains are not fully developed -- their planning and long-term foresight brain areas are still developing, even into their later teen years.

I just hope that if the juveniles do not have the foresight within themselves, that they'll read these sorts of stories and have the ability to reflect on the consequences of these sorts of behaviors before engaging in them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Plight of the Child's Attorney -- Conflicts of Interest and Deciding Who the Attorney Represents

In my Legal Profession course -- an ethics course required to graduate from law school -- we have discussed hypotheticals that pose the interesting conflict of one individual hiring a lawyer on behalf of another. This could pose particular difficulties for the attorney if the conflicts between the paying individual and the technical client diverge. For example, we discussed the case where a woman (let's call her Sue) hires the attorney to represent her boyfriend (Bob) who has been arrested. If in the course of representation Bob tells the attorney that he has AIDS, but he doesn't want his girlfriend Sue to know, the attorney is certainly in a conflicted position. The debate is complicated by strict confidentiality rules and rules that allow the attorney to break that confidentiality in certain instances -- such as if someone else's life is in danger.

This discussion -- while interesting and rather abstract for the usual attorney -- is particularly pertinent for a child's attorney. This sort of conflict potentially arises in EVERY single instance where a child has legal counsel. The parents are necessarily in a position where their interests are involved (even if the child is in criminal jeopardy, the parents' rights to custody are at stake -- if the child is put in a detention center, the parents' lose their rights to determine how the child is raised, for example).

The usual conflict raised when discussing the difficulties inherent in representing children is the conflict between the child-client's interests and their best interests. The attorney is most likely a responsible adult, and it is possible that in zealously representing their client, the attorney may feel that this may not be what is actually best for their client. While this probably arises more often in the course of representing children, this problem is not completely absent from the representation of adults. Adult clients will decide to not follow their attorney's advice (such as accepting a plea agreement). Attorneys for children can get help in balancing this difficult issue in the cases of children. In many instances a guardian ad litem (GAL) will be appointed. This GAL is supposed to look out for the child's best interest and thus allow the attorney to zealously advocate for the child's wishes with a clear conscience.

The complexity inherent in the parent-child-attorney interaction has no easy solution. The parent will usually be the one footing the bill (unless the attorney is working for free or is paid by the state). The parent will most likely have an interest that aligns with the attorney (if we assume they're both rational adults thinking in objective terms about the child's best interest). On the other hand, it is very possible that the parent will have their own motivations and interests stemming from the involvement with the courts.

There is no easy solution for children with legal representation. It will be very tempting for the child's attorney to take the parent's interests into account. On the other hand, seasoned attorneys might have a lot of experience parsing through the various interests -- thus leaving the child with exemplary legal representation.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Putting Juveniles at Risk Becuase Juvenile Sex is Taboo

Juveniles are in a precarious position when it comes to issues of sex. It is certainly a taboo to suggest that youths are sexually active -- and youths are subject to the influences of their peers, the concerns of their parents, and the sex-education classes of their schools.

I've been researching the sexual proclivities of juveniles and the associated taboos. One good recent example of this issue is the debate surrounding the Gardasil vaccine. This vaccine lowers the risks of cervical cancer. A debate arises, though, because cervical cancer is avoided by lowering the risks of getting HPV (a sexually transmitted disease). The optimal age for giving this vaccine is about 11 years old.

Some parents were up in arms that 11 year olds would be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease -- asserting that absitnence is the best vaccine for HPV and preventing other sexually transmitted diseases. This narrow-mindedness is the same false-logic that leads to absitnance-only sex education. The youths subject to abstinence-only sex education have been shown to have the same, if not higher, pregnancy rates because they are not introduced to appropriate forms of contraception.

These 11-year-old girls will one day be sexually active adults. I hope, as their parents do, that their entry into the sexually active community is a healthy, happy, personal choice. I do not understand, nor do I agree with the logic that keeping kids in the dark about sex and safe sex decisions will keep them away from it. Rather, I think this denial is dangerous and harmful to kids.

Young girls are in no position to demand this vaccine. They probably don't even know it exists, and if they do, they will probably not be able to articulate their interests adequately, nor understand the potential benefits. Rather, it is prudish to think that we can keep these youths as little girls forever, shielded from ever becoming sexually active. Protecting them from cervical cancer -- that happens to be transmitted by a sexually transmitted disease -- does not remove risk from sex. To the contrary, it might be an opportunity to explain the dangers, responsibilities, and potential consequences from sex at a time when youths are old enough to understand, but hopefully young enough to be removed from this daunting -- adult-like world.