H. Michael Steinberg has over 32 years experience practicing Colorado criminal law. Mr. Steinberg strives to stay current with the ever changing aspects of criminal law issues and updates resulting in his extensive knowledge of successful criminal defense as well as appellate work. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association, the Colorado Trial Lawyer's Association, and the Colorado and Arapahoe Bar Associations.
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How Young is Too Young? The Limits of The Juvenile Justice System

GALVESTON, TX (KTRK) — A young man sentenced to life in prison when he was just 15 years old may now be getting a second chance.

After spending four years behind bars for capital murder, a now 19-year-old man could be getting a new trial thanks to a ruling from the court of appeals.

The news of this decision comes just five weeks after the lawyers argued the case. The appeal means rather than sit behind bars until he dies Litray Turner is getting a second chance.

In 2006, Turner was just 15 years old when a Galveston County jury convicted him of capital murder for his involvement in the shooting death of Phuong Lam, a Dickinson convenience store owner. While Turner didn’t pull the trigger, he was automatically sentenced to life without parole.

“Life without parole doesn’t mean you’re gonna get paroled in 50 years, doesn’t mean that. It means he dies in prison,” said attorney Eric Davis. “Why this case went to trial and why Litrey ended up getting a life sentence instead of some type of plea deal, I couldn’t figure it out.”

According to the appeals court’s opinion, there was evidence to show turner was only guilty of robbery and not capital murder. The gunman in the case, identified as Andrew “young money” Brown, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, eligible for parole in 20 years; a disparity Davis was determined to fight.

“The criminal justice system just works that way, unfortunately,” he said. “Often times, if you don’t have enough resources, you’re not able to bring much to the table.”

It’s highly unlikely, perhaps even impossible, for Turner to be sentenced to life in prison again. That’s because last September, Texas repealed its life without parole law, making it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life sentences, without an opportunity for parole.

“Fifteen-year-olds are not adults. Neither are 16 or 17-year-olds,” said Davis. “And for the people out there that hear me and say that’s typical defense lawyer nonsense, God forbid it should happen to your son or your daughter.”

Criminal defense attorney Brian Wice hopes Turner’s case will help 19 other Texas teenagers currently serving out life sentences without parole, even though the law no longer exists.

“The court of criminal appeals will have to determine whether or not it’s cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles to serve a sentence the legislature’s now considered inappropriate,” said Wice.

Brenda Turner, who says her life has been empty since her son was incarcerated, just wants the chance to take care of her basketball star at home again.

“He was taken from me when he was just 15,” she told us. “I should be still taking care of him, stocking up on his favorite food, cereal and milk.”

Litray still doesn’t know the news. His family hopes he’ll call so they can tell him directly.

H. Michael’s Take

The whole idea behind the juvenile justice system is the recognition that kids are not adults — their inds do not work like ours and their decisions are not based on the same life experience as adults. In short, they are different.

The juvenile criminal justice system operates according to the premise that youth are fundamentally different than adults, both in terms of level of responsibility and potential for rehabilitation. The treatment and successful reintegration of youth into society are the primary goals of the juvenile justice system, along with overall public safety.

The juvenile criminal justice system operates according to the premise that youth are fundamentally different than adults, both in terms of level of responsibility and potential for rehabilitation. The treatment and successful reintegration of youth into society are the primary goals of the juvenile justice system, along with overall public safety.

“Get Tough on Crime” Legislation

A steep rise in juvenile crime occurred between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. In response to a fear that juvenile crime would continue to rise at the rate seen between (roughly) 1987 and 1994, legislatures enacted measures designed to “get tough on crime.”

This anti-crime sentiment of the period caused changes to be implemented to the juvenile justice system that made it increasingly similar to the adult (criminal) justice system. The shift was predictable. Instead of viewing youth as in need of rehabilitation, they were – and are now in many cases, viewed more as young criminals. Rehabilitation became a lesser priority to public safety in the aggressive campaign against crime of the 1990s.

In the late 1990s Americans faced growing concern over highly publicized and violent juvenile crime. A series of school shootings and other horrendous offenses caused the public to fear a new breed of “juvenile superpredators.,” defined as “juveniles for whom violence was a way of life – new delinquents unlike youth of past generations.”

This case, I hope, represents a re-examination of the serious slide from sanity that has been representative of the last 20 years…