The Youngstown Vindicator
March 4, 2012
The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected an appeal by three newspapers —
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and New Castle News — to open
to the public the juvenile hearing for accused killer Jordan Brown. As a result,
the public will never know “officially” how the matter is resolved.
In 2009, at age 11, Brown was accused of killing his father’s pregnant fianc
e by shooting her in the back of the head as she lay in bed. The case generated
international attention. Brown was charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
The Vindicator reported, if convicted as an adult, Brown would have been the
youngest person in the country to face life in prison without the possibility of
Lawrence County Judge Dominick Motto originally agreed that Brown should be
tried as an adult. He was overruled a year later by the Pennsylvania Superior
Court which took issue with a psychologist’s assertion that Brown’s failure to
admit guilt indicated he was not amenable to rehabilitation.
Brown’s case returned to Lawrence County. Following a second hearing before
Judge Motto the case was transferred to juvenile court. Subsequently, the court
closed the case to the public, resulting in a second appeal to the Superior
The public will never know the outcome of Brown’s case, absent an appeal by
the respective news agencies, and here is why. 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
information about the case.
Pennsylvania law permits limited disclosure regarding juvenile cases, such as
the name, age, address of the juvenile and the case’s adjudication (guilty or
not guilty) and disposition (sentence).
However, limited disclosure is restricted to felony cases where the accused
is 14 years of age or older; or for cases of murder, rape, robbery and some
other offenses, and the accused in 12 or 13 years of age. Brown was 11 years-old
when the alleged offense occurred. Therefore, the court may not disclose whether
Brown was adjudicated delinquent, the specific court findings or the terms of
Who else will have access to the proceedings and can they make public
The Crime Victim’s Act makes it clear that the family of a murder victim can
be present during a juvenile adjudication and disposition hearing. The statute
defines family quite broadly. Family members also have a right to be heard for
purposes of disposition.
The Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure are also instructive in terms of who
can be present during a closed juvenile proceeding. Rule 132 provides that the
victim, victim’s counsel and a victim’s advocate may accompany a victim to
provide assistance. A murder victim’s family cannot be denied access to a
Rule 131 provides that the court may permit, at the court’s discretion, the
guardian of the accused juvenile to be present if it is in the “best interest of
the juvenile.” Theoretically, the court can prevent the father of Jordan Brown
from being present during the hearing.
Finally, Rule 137 prohibits court personnel from disclosing any information
about the proceedings. The disclosure of information by court personnel is
punishable by jail time and a fine. Attorneys for the parties are not considered
court personnel and, therefore, are not restricted from commenting on a pending
However, the court would have the authority to impose a gag order on the
attorneys if public statements would interfere with the juvenile’s right to a
fair hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that attorneys can be
enjoined from disclosures to the media or the public if their comments would
likely prejudice the integrity of the juvenile proceeding. Gag orders on lawyers
have been generally upheld.
Gag orders on parties have been a mixed bag. Some courts have provided wide
discretion to the courts to restrict comment by the parties, while others have
sought to preserve the freedom of parties to talk about their cases. The family
of a murder victim is not a party to a criminal trial. Can the court restrict
such persons from public disclosure? If not, the victim’s family may provide the
only glimpse into an otherwise closed proceeding.
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