Illinois appellate court rejects ordinance banning detention of 10-12 year olds

A Cook County judge’s decision to buck a county ordinance by ordering the confinement of a 12-year-old child in a juvenile detention facility was upheld by the Illinois Appellate Court this week. Appellate court judges wrote that a conflicting state law makes the ordinance "unenforceable."

A divided Illinois Appellate Court panel this week ruled that Cook County judges may detain pre-teenagers, rejecting a county ordinance that banned the practice.

The 2-1 decision, authored by Illinois Appellate Court Judge Daniel Pierce, came in the case of a 12-year old whom Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin ordered detained following an arrest for the youth’s suspected involvement in an armed robbery. Toomin ruled last October that the county ordinance conflicted with state law that permits the detention of youth 10 years or older, freeing judges from following the Cook County Board of Commissioner’s edict.

The majority opinion, joined by Judge John C. Griffin, agreed, finding that the state law makes the county ordinance “unenforceable.”

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.

In dissent, Illinois Appellate Judge Michael B. Hyman wrote that the ruling “dangerously erodes” the ability of counties to create their own rules.

Hyman wrote that he disagreed with the majority’s reasoning that the legislature had given express permission to detain 10, 11, and 12 year olds through the Juvenile Court Act. That law applies to detention by police, not courts, he wrote.

“Nothing in the Juvenile Court Act specifically limits Cook County’s ability to determine who is admitted to the [Juvenile Temporary Detention Center], try as one might to find it,” Hyman wrote.

According to the appellate decision released Monday:

The youth, identified only as Mathias B., was originally detained through electronic monitoring. Prosecutors later asked that his electronic confinement be revoked, contending that the child failed to charge his electronic monitoring device and had violated the terms of his home confinement by leaving his residence when not authorized to do so.

Later, when the boy left home and was not able to be located, another Cook County judge revoked his electronic monitoring and ordered that he be held in a detention facility once arrested. After the boy’s arrest, Judge Toomin heard a motion to reconsider the child’s detention and ordered that the youth remain in custody for his own safety.

The boy has since served his sentence and has been released from detention, the opinion states.

The majority wrote that even though the boy’s sentence is already complete and the state took no position in the matter, other juvenile judges will seek guidance in making “gut wrenching” detention decisions for the small number of pre-teens whose cases come before them.

“The General Assembly expressed its intention that the operation and administration of juvenile detention facilities would lie with the judiciary and not the county board,” Pierce wrote.

Hyman disagreed not only with the majority opinion on the state law, but also criticized the prosecution’s decision to take no position on the matter. Prosecutors had acknowledged at an earlier hearing that the state believed the new county ordinance was the controlling law in the case, Hyman wrote.

Tandra Simonton, chief communications officer with the with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, said in a statement that the office is “not advocating that juveniles under the age of 13 should be detained and held in custody when charged with a crime,” but that the office agrees with the appellate court’s ruling.

“We believe that the best legal remedy to address this issue is through legislation and amendment of the Juvenile Court Act,” Simonton said in the statement.

Democratic Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who sponsored the ordinance banning detention of pre-teens, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

“Our public policies are damaging children,” Suffredin said, adding that he feared the effects of detaining youth.

He noted the ongoing case in downstate Illinois, in which prosecutors recently charged a nine-year-old boy with murder.

“I would hope that this ruling will shake the general assembly into realizing that they need to do something,” Suffredin said.