Legislation geared toward keeping kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline by prohibiting criminal proceedings against juvenile students for “disturbing a school assembly” based on in-school conduct must be applied retroactively to cases pending when the law was enacted, according to a recent high court decision.
The Supreme Judicial Court, siding with the position of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and others, found that it would be “repugnant to the purpose of the Legislature’s amendment of the school assembly statute” to have the law apply prospectively.
The student who was being prosecuted under the old version of the law was represented in his appeal to the SJC by Eva Jellison, a private attorney assigned to the case by CPCS.
“The disturbing a school assembly offense was a major factor in the school-to-prison pipeline. For example, in 2016, 250 children were charged solely with disturbing a school assembly,” Jellison said. “The children that this offense affected the most were black, brown, LGBTQ, poor, and disabled.”
The SJC vacated a lower court’s adjudication of delinquency against the juvenile and remanded the case for dismissal.
“The legislative intent was to reduce the number of kids involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Afton M. Templin, director of juvenile appeals for CPCS’s Youth Advocacy Division. “We are pleased with the decision, and we are hopeful that this reduces the number of kids in the school-to-prison pipeline.”
CPCS’s Youth Advocacy Division filed an amicus brief, which was written by private attorney Melissa Allen Celli. The brief urged the high court to apply the law retroactively. Citizens for Juvenile Justice, the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, Massachusetts Appleseed, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Anti-Defamation League all signed onto the brief.
This marks the second time the SJC sided with CPCS regarding the retroactivity of the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Earlier this year, the high court found that the Legislature’s revised definition of “delinquent child” in the Act must apply retroactively.