U.S. Judge: “Mind boggling” that Illinois law does not protect youth

UPDATE: At a hearing this morning, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin called “mind-boggling” that Illinois law has failed to comply with federal constitutional standards on how quickly juvenile detainees get before a judge. 

Durkin’s comments came as he presided over an initial hearing on behalf of four juvenile detainees who were held, according to their attorney, as long as 88 hours before any judge reviewed the charges to ensure there was probable cause to arrest.

(Early version of this article follows):

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Cook County holds hundreds of juveniles each year in jail for unconstitutionally long periods of time before the charges against them are sanctioned by a judge, a newly filed lawsuit contends.

Filed on behalf of four unidentified teenagers, the suit seeks class-action certification for both an injunction to halt the practice as well as cash compensation for the “loss of physical liberty” for minors who are being held for more than 48 hours.

One of the teens, a 17-year old who was arrested on June 12, was jailed and released 55 hours later without ever being charged or appearing before a judge, the lawsuit states. Among the four, their attorney said on Thursday, they were detained as long as 88 hours before seeing a judge.

The four parents who filed the complaint on behalf of their teenage sons contend that Cook County, by conducting juvenile probable-cause hearings only on business days, is forcing minors, unlike adults, to wait hours or even a full day for a hearing to determine if the arrest was valid beyond the 48-hour time limit established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, who scheduled a hearing Sept. 13.

The suit accuses Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans of “deliberate indifference” of the violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of juveniles while Leonard Dixon, the superintendent of the juvenile detention center, is “turning a blind eye” to those same unconstitutional practices. Cook County is also a defendant in the action.

A spokesperson for Chief Judge Evans declined to comment on the litigation, citing an Illinois Supreme Court rule that advises judges to refrain from publicly commenting on pending court matters. Dixon did not return requests for comment.

For adults in Cook County, “They have bond court every single day, including on holidays – including when the courts are otherwise closed,” said attorney Adele Nicholas, who represents the teens and their families. “I don’t see any reason why the rules should be different for minors.

“If anything, they should protect them more, and they should be entitled to more of the constitutional safeguards that are available under the Fourth Amendment,” she added.

While the exact number of juveniles affected by weekend arrests is not known, Nicholas estimates that about 10 percent of the 6,036 juvenile probable cause hearings in 2013 were delayed because of the absence of weekend hearings.

On a standard weekend, a minor arrested after court hours on a Friday would have to wait at least 56 hours before court re-opens the following Monday – eight hours longer than permitted by the high court’s ruling, the lawsuit notes.

“This is a systemic problem,” Nicholas said. “This is a policy, and this is what they’re doing to every child who’s arrested on a weekend or a holiday. I think it’s really outrageous.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 25 years ago, in County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, that people arrested without a warrant should be given a hearing within 48 hours to establish probable cause for the arrest. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice said failing to afford the same prompt hearing for minors is unconstitutional.

Illinois law, by contrast, fails to adhere to that time limit for juveniles arrested on a weekend or holiday. Under Illinois law, minors “must be brought before a judicial officer within 40 hours…to determine whether he or she shall be further held in custody.” But, the statute adds, “In all cases, the 40 hour time period is exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and court-designated holidays.”

The four minors represented in the lawsuit, all between 16 and 17 years old, were each taken into custody on Friday evenings—two were arrested on the cusp of holiday weekends—and were required to wait for their detention hearings until the next business day.