A panel of D.C. government witnesses proposed a key change to D.C. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Tommy Wells’ Juvenile Speedy Trial Equity Amendment Act during a hearing this afternoon to evaluate the bill. If enacted, the legislation would codify that a juvenile wait no longer than 30 days in shelter care (the time frame is already mandated for those in secure detention) from his or her initial hearing to the time of his or her adjudication. Currently, there is no codified time-to-trial limit for juveniles in shelter care in the District.
Among those testifying before the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary were presiding judge of D.C. Family Court, Anita Josey-Herring; Director of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, Vincent Schiraldi; and D.C. attorney general, Linda Singer. All three agreed that the time frame in the bill should be extended from 30 days to 45 days to ensure that the defense has enough time to prepare for court. “I don’t want to be part of developing a system that’s churning out results where justice is not being served,” said Josey-Herring. The three panelists agreed that the time extension would be in the interest of public safety and of due process.
But Josey-Herring, Schiraldi, and Singer also said additional research is needed to definitely determine the appropriate length of time. Councilmember Mendelson said the council may instate a temporary version of the law once the fiscal impact of such an additional study is known. That way, the law can be in place temporarily until the specifics of the permanent version can be sufficiently fleshed out. The permanent bill will not be voted on until summer of next year.
At the hearing, Schiraldi also announced a plan to convert four part-time juvenile trial courts to full-time courts, and Singer said her office is in the process of hiring eight additional attorneys to take on juvenile cases. Both steps are meant to expedite the judicial process for juveniles.