Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jordan Brown: Public will never know the outcome

The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected an appeal by three newspapers--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, New Castle News--to open to the public the juvenile hearing for Jordan Brown who at age 11 was accused of killing his father's pregnant fiancee by shooting her in the back of the head as she lay in bed.

As a result, Brown's adjudication hearing will be closed, and there will be no possibility of media coverage from inside the courtroom. There is also no provision in the law that permits the disclosure of the disposition of the case.

This case generated international attention.  Brown was charged as an adult with first-degree murder pursuant to Pennsylvania law.  Some outlets suggested that, if convicted as an adult, Brown would be the youngest person in the county to face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After an appeal, Brown's case was remanded to juvenile court.  The judge closed the case to the public.  A second appeal followed. 

Pennsylvania law (42 P.S. 6307) permits limited disclosure of information regarding juvenile cases, such as name, age, address the adjudication (guilty or not guilty) and disposition (sentence).  However, that limited disclosure is restricted to felony cases were the accused is 14 years or older or for case of murder, rape and some other enumerated offenses if the accused in 12 or 13 years of age.

Brown was 11 years old when the alleged offense occurred. Therefore, the public will never officially know if Brown is adjudicated delinquent, the specific findings or disposition.

According to the Post-Gazette, the newspapers argued that the public has a constitutional right to access, even in cases involving juveniles.

"We ... conclude that the denial of public access to the juvenile proceedings at hand serves an important government interest," Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan wrote in a 33-page opinion. "Under the facts of this case, there is no alternative short of closure of the juvenile court proceedings which will adequately serve the privacy interests of [Jordan Brown.]"

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