Criminal justice students trained on juvenile cases

Kandice Johnson

A seminar aimed at training public defenders, social workers and mitigation specialist on how to defend people under the age of 18 took place in the E. Orum Young Courtroom located in Strauss Hall from 9am-5pm.

The Louisiana center for Children’s Rights and the Louisiana public defenders board asked ULM to host the event.

“We were asked to host and of course we have our courtroom that seats 100 people and we were great location for north Louisiana to host,” said Bob Noel, an Adjunct Professor of political science, lawyer and coach of the ULM mock trail team.

Noel said the seminar was held for recent changes made by the Supreme Court.

“If you were convicted of murder, and you were a juvenile you would die in prison,” said Noel. “That’s now changed to where current law is after 35 years, you may or may not be eligible for parole hearing.”

Noel said the United State Supreme Court ruled in the state of Louisiana vs. Montgomery that juveniles who were sentenced to life due to murder  had to be given a hearing to determine whether they will be eligible for parole or released at some time in their lives.

Noel said the need for trainings was a result of an earlier Supreme Court ruling in the case called Alabama vs. Miller which caused confusion on how to handle things legally.

The eight-hour seminar featured multiple speakers and topics.

Mark Plaisance, the district defender in Lafourche Parish, was the first speaker, speaking on the United States Supreme Court. Carol Kolinachk, a member of the public defender board, gave a lecture. Dr. Loretta Sonnier, a child psychiatrist, lectured on the trauma in adolescents that leads to criminal behavior. Kate Purvis, a mitigation specialist, gave a lecture and, lastly, Jill Pasquarella, from the center for children’s rights, spoke about legal strategies and defending juveniles.

Although faculty and attorneys were invited to the seminar, students were welcomed to.

“We have a lot of students in pre-trial and mock trail who are very interested in the criminal justice process,” said Noel. “They’re inspiring to be lawyers some day and learning these issues is very important.”

Noel said students were given an educational opportunity since Plaisance argued this case before the United States Supreme Court.

Noel said the students that did attend the event had the opportunity to network with lawyers from around the state who could be potential employers.

Noel also said the lack of knowledge in this field causes a lack of jobs in the profession of mitigation. Noel said social workers will be needed for future employment opportunities and also provide service to an entire region that doesn’t have anyone who does mitigation.

This will not be the only event held for juvenile mitigation training. According to Noel, ULM will be involved in the legal community and governmental entities in order to become more apart of what’s going on and what reforms we need to make in the justice system and other governmental areas.

“I think it’s important for our students to have these opportunities, as well as for the university itself to assist in reforming our governmental systems,” said Noel. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”