While today’s oral arguments before the Superior Court in the matter of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Jordan Brown will certainly be momentous, the hearing itself will consist of each side having 15 minutes to state its case before a panel of three judges, and then it will be over. If you blink, you’ll miss it.
After the hearing is over and the attorneys give their obligatory courthouse-step media interviews, we may be waiting weeks or even months to learn what the court decides.
Representing the Neanderthal State will be Pennsylvania Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher D. Carusone, head of the Appeals and Legal Services Division of the Attorney General’s Office. He will likely be backed up by Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Krastek, the attack dog prosecutor assigned to win this political case by any means necessary.
Representing Jordan Brown, who was 11 years old at the time his future stepmother Kenzie Houk and her unborn baby were murdered (and who is now 13), will be Lourdes M. Rosado, Associate Director of the renowned Juvenile Law Center, which is based in Philadelphia. She will be backed up by Jordan’s local defense attorneys Dennis Elisco and David Acker.
The judges hearing the arguments will be Cheryl Lynn Allen, Judith Ference Olson and Senior Judge Robert Colville.
The Superior Court will not hear arguments about whether Jordan is innocent or guilty of this crime, nor will it hear arguments that Jordan has been incarcerated for almost two years without any credible evidence, physical or otherwise, that he even committed this crime. It will not hear arguments that the murders were more likely caused by Kenzie’s former boyfriend Adam Harvey, who had repeatedly threatened to have her murdered over a bitter child support and paternity battle in which he and Kenzie had been embroiled up until the time of her and the baby’s murders.
Instead, today’s hearing will focus on the issues surrounding the state’s intention to try Jordan as an adult which, were the state successful in gaining a conviction, would entail a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole—a barbaric penalty if inflicted on a child and proscribed by international law.
Here is a description of the issues to be addressed today, as lifted from the Juvenile Law Center’s website:
Juvenile Law Center, along with private attorneys David Acker and Dennis Elisco, filed this brief to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of Jordan Brown, an eleven-year-old charged with the murder of his stepmother. The trial court had denied Jordan’s decertification to the juvenile justice system, holding that in order to demonstrate his amenability to treatment within the juvenile system, he had to first take responsibility for the offense. If convicted in the adult system, Jordan will receive a mandatory life without parole sentence and will be the youngest person in the country tried as an adult. This brief argued that the trial court’s interpretation of the transfer statute (42 Pa.C.S. § 6322) requiring Jordan’s confession at the pre-adjudicatory decertification hearing in order to demonstrate his ability to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, was in violation of Jordan’s right against self-incrimination and rights to due process and fundamental fairness under both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.
An amicus brief filed by the Campaign for Youth Justice, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and attorneys from Baker McKenzie, argued that the trial court failed to consider developmental research confirming that children are more amenable to treatment and rehabilitation. The brief also provided a historical overview of the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system and demonstrated that the juvenile system is better equipped to try Jordan and provide rehabilitation and treatment to Jordan if found delinquent. The adult system would provide severe consequences to Jordan. Finally, amici argued that there is consensus among other states and the international community that disfavors trying youth as young as Jordan as adults.
Like you, I will be standing by to read media reports to see if the hearing holds any surprises. Please return to this Diary post later in the day for more news.
As far as I can see from the news reports out of Pittsburgh, nobody pulled a rabbit out of the hat today.
The Superior Court judges asked good questions of the lawyers on both sides of the case. Based on reports from people who were at the hearing, the judges seemed to direct their sharpest questions at Mr. Carusone, who seemed caught up short in answering them, particularly questions related to whether Jordan’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated by Judge Dominick Motto. They wondered aloud, and described their concerns as “troubling,” about whether Jordan would have been forced to give up his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to be certified as a juvenile. Unbeknownst to Mr. Carusone, Ms. Rosado had been involved in a case upon which the state had based its absurd logic–Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Davis–and Ms. Rosado was able to authoritatively demonstrate to the judges that the state had interpreted this case backwards. In a highly unusual move, one of the judges publicly complimented Ms. Rosado on the quality of her presentation.
Yet questions and compliments are a far cry from a ruling, and the time Jordan continues to be incarcerated will continue to accrue as the wheels of justice slowly grind on and on.
About the most exciting thing on the news today was a TV reporter leaning forward and delivering his lines in a stage whisper, like he didn’t want to disturb the judges’ deliberations just beyond the courtroom door. It was really… hmmm… tense.
Debbie Houk was interviewed again, repeating her worn-out line that nothing would bring her babies back and that they should lock up the boy and throw away the key. Not a note of doubt or compassion.
(She’ll have a hard time adjusting when Jordan is found innocent.)
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