Pennsylvania prosecutors adopted new standards for handling juvenile cases, aiming to prevent another scandal like the one in Luzerne County courts, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The new policy of directs district attorneys to make juvenile prosecutions a top priority, improve training for juvenile prosecutors, and require prosecutors to be present at all stages of juvenile proceedings. “The problems exposed in the Luzerne County juvenile justice system are a worst-case wake-up call for everyone involved in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system,” said Edward Marsico, Dauphin County district attorney and president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.
The new standards serve as a reminder to prosecutors that on occasion they must take an active stance to protect defendants’ rights – such as when a juvenile waives the right to counsel, Marsico said. Such waivers figured in the Luzerne County “kids-for-cash” scandal. Witnesses have told the panel investigating the scandal that one judge pressured young defendants to waive the right to counsel – even going so far as to set up tables outside the courtroom where teens signed away those rights. That led to fewer than half the juvenile defendants in Luzerne County courts being represented by lawyers, a figure far below the statewide average.