Monday, September 8, 2014

Driver in crash that killed 3 Council Rock students could be ID'd

Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014

A Pennsylvania district attorney says she won’t identify the 15-year-old New York driver who was involved in an accident that killed three Council Rock teens, but that doesn’t mean the information won’t be made public.

Last week, Wayne County DA Janine Edwards said the girl’s identity and the details of the charges won’t be made public because of her age.

“Criminal juvenile matters are not disclosed to the public,” Edwards said.

But that isn't necessarily the case, juvenile law experts said.

Shamus Digney , Cullen Keffer (center) Ryan Leshe


It depends on the crime the person is charged with and the offender’s age. At least one juvenile law expert said, in his experience, felony charges are typically filed in any juvenile case where someone dies. A judge could decide to move the case from juvenile to adult court, too.
As for the girl’s father, who owned the 2001 Chevy Suburban that she drove, it’s unlikely he’ll face criminal charges, a local prosecutor said. Parents aren’t criminally liable for their child’s criminal actions unless the parent’s “conscious objective was to have their child harm someone else,” county prosecutor Matt Weintraub said.
Under Pennsylvania juvenile law, certain offenses — specifically charges that would be graded as felonies for adults — are considered to have “limited public availability,” said Robert Mancini, a Bucks County attorney who specializes in juvenile law.
If the charge falls under the exception — and the offender is at least 14 years old — Mancini said the DA’s office must generate a form that allows the county’s clerk of courts to provide the public with some information about the juvenile: the person’s name, address, the charges, and the disposition, which is the equivalent of a sentence in adult court.
Any member of the public would be entitled to get that information from the clerk of courts, he added. Some information would remain sealed, including police reports filed with the court, Mancini said.
Under the “limited public availability” exception, the juvenile court hearing would also be open to the public, said Michele Walsh, chief of the juvenile division of the Bucks County District Attorney’s office.
A handful of high profile criminal cases involving minors have been made public in Bucks and surrounding counties in recent years.
Fourteen-year-old Winston Charleston, of Philadelphia, was initially charged with third-degree murder as an adult in July 2011 after he took his mom’s car without permission and went joy riding with friends in Northeast Philadelphia. He led state police on a chase before smashing into a car and killing 22-year-old Bensalem resident Daniel Fouracre. The case was later transferred to Philadelphia’s juvenile court, where a judge ordered Charleston to spend four years in a juvenile detention facility and be on probation until he turns 21.
2001 Chevy Suburban involved in triple fatal accident
In December 2012, Dylan Donohoe, then a 14-year-old Council Rock High School South student, was charged with felony-graded terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a minor after police found two semi-automatic handguns in his room and he made “credible” threats against the school. The next month, a Bucks County judge sent Donohoe to a secure treatment center and required him to perform 100 hours of community service, write a letter of apology to the school district and pay $1,200 in restitution for the K-9 unit sweep of the high school campus.
The state police investigation into the Aug. 30 rollover accident that killed Northampton residents Shamus Digney, Cullen Keffer and Ryan Lesher, all 15, is expected to take weeks. Any decision on criminal charges won’t be made until after the investigation is completed.
A fourth 15-year-old Council Rock South boy was injured, along with the driver and a 16-year-old passenger, both from Pleasantville, New York. The accident occurred in the Poconos.
Authorities say the teenage driver, whose father owns a vacation home near where the accident occurred, took his 2001 Chevy Suburban with her friend, and picked up the four boys from a home in the driver’s development. Investigators have confirmed the girl didn’t have her father’s permission to take the vehicle, Trooper Connie Devens, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Police Dunmore barracks, said Friday.
State police believe speed was a factor in the accident, but that won’t be confirmed until the collision analysis and reconstruction specialists complete their report. There were no immediate signs of drugs or alcohol involved in the crash, but state police have secured search warrants to obtain blood samples and examine the SUV, state police spokeswoman Maria Finn said. The driver’s blood will be tested and it could take a few weeks for the result to be returned, Finn said.
The Wayne County DA has said the girl will be charged. Once that happens, a hearing before a juvenile court judge would be scheduled if the girl isn’t sent to a juvenile detention center, Walsh explained. If the girl is detained, a hearing would be scheduled within three days to determine if probable cause exists for the charges.
At that detention hearing, a judge would determine if the minor could be released in a parent’s or guardian’s custody or returned to the detention center until the adjudication hearing, which is scheduled within 10 days if the person is incarcerated. At the adjudication hearing, the judge could issue a disposition — the equivalent of sentencing in adult court. That may not happen immediately, however, if the judge orders evaluations of the minor. At the disposition hearing, victim impact statements could be presented.
A judge hearing a juvenile case has many options, Wayne said, including placing the minor outside the home. Juvenile sentences are indefinite and must be reviewed every six months, but any sentence or probation ends at age 21, Walsh said.
But just because a criminal case starts in juvenile court, doesn’t mean it will stay there, according to Keith Snyder, executive director of the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission in Harrisburg.
The three deaths plunged Council Rock into mourning 

When a minor is 14 or older and charged with a felony, the judge could transfer the case to criminal court, Snyder said. The judge would review criteria including the impact of the offense on the victim, the impact on the community, any threat to the public, the nature of the offense and the individual’s culpability. Juvenile-to-adult-court transfers typically involve more “chronic or serious cases,” Snyder said.
Juvenile court is the appropriate justice arena for the case, given her age, and the fact that offense wasn’t intentional, said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. Additionally, the girl is unlikely to be a long-term threat to society and likely would be amenable to rehabilitation, he said.
But that doesn’t mean a slap on the wrist, Schwartz added. In juvenile cases where a death is involved, authorities “almost never” charge a minor with misdemeanors, Schwartz said.
“Clearly, a 15-year-old driving recklessly would have some degree of murder as a possibility,” Schwartz said. “They’re not going to charge her for not wearing a seat belt — this is three boys (who) lost their lives. The question is how ought she be held in a developmentally proper way.”

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