In all of our policy work, Voices for Children seeks to break down barriers to opportunity for children. Most of the time, that involves public education, community engagement, and administrative and legislative advocacy: working with the public to highlight and understand issues facing kids and families, and working with the Nebraska Unicameral and state executive agencies to shift policies to better align with what the research tells us works for kids.
This year, we expanded our scope of advocacy work into the realm of the judiciary, jointly filing with Nebraska Youth Advocates as amicus curiae in a case before the Nebraska Supreme Court. An amicus brief is a type of appellate filing where external interested parties or experts can offer the Court important information to consider as they interpret the law. The case was called In Re Tyrone K, and the issue presented to the Court related to Nebraska’s relatively new statutory scheme raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and resetting the way kids’ cases can be transferred between juvenile and criminal court (LB 464, passed in 2014). We asked the Court for permission to weigh in because the passage of LB 464 was a great legislative victory for kids, and we wanted to ensure that its protections were preserved as intended. A PDF of our filing can be found here.
The Supreme Court issued its opinion on Friday, and unfortunately, held that without explicit statutory language saying so, a juvenile can’t immediately appeal from an order transferring the juvenile case to the adult criminal court. Instead, this means that if a juvenile judge decides to transfer the case– even wrongly– the youth will have to face criminal charges, trial, and sentencing before she is able to appeal the order and get her case returned to juvenile court. This will mean lost months or even years of time, likely incarcerated, that could be spent in rehabilitative services aimed at reducing her likelihood of recidivism and improving her ability to become a contributing member of adult society.
This decision is a disheartening blow, but we will continue to work and advocate in all three branches of government for sensible laws and policies that set all Nebraska’s kids up for success.