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Function of Juries & Sixth Amendment | 02 Aug 2013

-“Kids-for-Cash” Judge Is a Reminder of the Importance of Juries


Jury BoxThis week the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia denied the request of “Kids-for-Cash” Judge Mark A. Ciavarella to overturn his 28-year sentence for his part in a multi-million dollar scheme whereby he and another judge profited handsomely by funneling kids into a private prison system.

This scheme involved denying juvenile defendants of their basic rights, including denying them legal representation. Instead, kids were left to fend for themselves before the corrupt judge, who quickly dispensed with them into the prison system, sometimes after a hearing lasting only a minute or two. These children’s cases were not heard by a jury, but rather decided and sentenced by one man whose profiteering scheme depended on filling up the private prison system. Not surprisingly, a pattern quickly emerged where he sentenced children harshly for very minor offenses, including mocking a principal on the internet. Hundreds of fraudulent juvenile convictions have since been overturned.

This stark example of judicial corruption is a good reminder of why we have a Constitutional right to trial by jury.

In the courtroom, the judge is not an independent, objective party. A judge’s livelihood depends on keeping the court system full. In this case, we see how judges can profit even further from keeping the private prison system full. Judges have an inherent conflict of interest in the courtroom. Jurors on the other hand, are lucky if they manage to break even from the pittance they receive for each day of service. The few dollars a day they are allotted may not even be enough to cover their parking and lunch that day, and almost certainly will not replace income that they may lose by being away from work. They are there for a very short time, usually just for a single case, and then they move on, without a long-term opportunity to profit from corrupt practices as these “kids-for-cash” judges did.

The Sixth Amendment specifies a right to trial by jury in ALL criminal cases. Denying that right because a defendant is under age, because the offense seems minor, or because the maximum penalty is less than some arbitray amount is not only a clear violation of a supposedly guaranteed Constitutional right, but it opens the door for just this sort of heinous abuse of power against the most vulnerable among us.

Judge to serve 28 years after making $2 million for sending black children to jail

Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, 63, serves as an example of why the private prison industry can do more harm than good. Ciavarella worked alongside owners of private juvenile facilities to ensure that the prison remained occupied. The more prisoners equated to more profits for the owners of the prison.

As a result, Ciavarella would sentence offenders with small offenses to months and, at times, years behind bars. He once sentenced a teen to three months in jail for creating a MySpace page that mocked her school’s assistant principal. Ciavarella also sentenced another teen to 90 days in jail after a simple schoolyard fight.

But after a federal investigation, it was discovered that Ciavarella and his colleague, Judge Michael Conahan, received more than $2.6 million from privately run youth centers owned by PA Child Care.

Pennsylvania Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. Still Set to Serve 28 Years for Selling Kids to Juvenile Corrections

Ciaverella, 61, was convicted of racketeering charges for receiving $1 million in bribes from a constructor of juvenile detention facilities. The judge had violated individual rights for at least 4,000 cases between 2003 and 2008, denying defendants the right to counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.