Pennsylvania Overturns Many Youths’ Convictions
By IAN URBINA - NY Times
Published: October 29, 2009
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday overturned thousands of juvenile-offender convictions handed down by a judge now charged in a corruption scandal.
The judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, and Michael T. Conahan, a fellow judge who for a time was the chief of that court, are charged with taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks from the owner of two privately run youth detention centers in exchange for their sending teenagers there.
The Supreme Court said the conviction of any juvenile who appeared before Judge Ciavarella after Jan. 1, 2003, was invalid. The justices barred the retrial of all but an estimated 100 of those cases.
The decision followed advice the court received from Arthur Grim, a Berks County judge whom it appointed in February to review juvenile cases involving Judges Ciavarella and Conahan.
Judge Ciavarella, who along with Judge Conahan awaits federal trial on charges of income-tax and wire fraud, routinely held juvenile hearings that lasted just minutes, failing to ask the youths before him whether they understood the consequences of waiving their right to a lawyer and pleading guilty.
“We concluded,” the justices wrote Thursday, “that the record supports Judge Grim’s determination that Ciavarella knew he was violating both the law and the procedural rules promulgated by this court applicable when adjudicating the merits of juvenile cases without the knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of counsel by the juveniles.”
Under the justices’ ruling, the only cases that will be eligible for retrial are those in which youths are still under court supervision. The district attorney’s office has been directed to notify Judge Grim of those cases it wishes to prosecute again. He will then make a determination on each case.
A version of this article appeared in print on October 30, 2009, on page A18 of the New York edition.