Support the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse?

The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse is committed to making information about civil rights lawsuits public, accessible, and free. If you use our--recently revamped--website and the posted documents and information, would you consider a donation? Our small but mighty team relies principally on grant funding and donations. Can you help?

Support the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse?

The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse is committed to making information about civil rights lawsuits public, accessible, and free. If you use our--recently revamped--website and the posted documents and information, would you consider a donation? Our small but mighty team relies principally on grant funding and donations. Can you help?

Thank you!

DONATE

Case: DOJ Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court

No Court

Filed Date: Nov. 18, 2013

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On November 18, 2013, the DOJ opened an investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court in Missouri. This investigation was initiated pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek remedies for patterns or practices of conduct that violate the constitutional or federal statutory rights of children in the administration of juvenile justice.The DOJ investigated whether the St. Louis County Famil…

On November 18, 2013, the DOJ opened an investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court in Missouri. This investigation was initiated pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek remedies for patterns or practices of conduct that violate the constitutional or federal statutory rights of children in the administration of juvenile justice.

The DOJ investigated whether the St. Louis County Family Court failed to ensure that children appearing for juvenile justice proceedings received adequate due process, as required under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and whether it engaged in conduct that violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The DOJ examined 33,000 cases, including all delinquency and status offenses resolved in the St. Louis County Family Court from 2010 to 2013. The investigators interviewed court personnel such as judges, juvenile officers, and directors of delinquency services, as well as attorneys and parents of young people involved in delinquency proceedings.

On July 31, 2015, the DOJ released a findings letter which concluded that the St. Louis County Family Court violated the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to ensure that juveniles facing delinquency charges received adequate due process protections and failing to provide African-American youth in the juvenile justice system with equal protection under the law.

Specifically, the DOJ found that the Court failed to provide adequate representation for children in delinquency proceedings; failed to adequately protect children's privilege against self-incrimination; failed to provide adequate probable cause determinations to children facing delinquency charges; failed to provide children facing certification to be criminally tried in adult criminal court with adequate due process; and failed to ensure that children's guilty pleas were entered knowingly and voluntarily.

Additionally, the DOJ found that the Court engaged in conduct that violated the Equal Protection rights of African American children: they were disproportionately represented in decisions to formally charge youth instead of handling matters more informally, to detain youth pretrial, to commit youth, under existing Court supervision, to Division of Youth Services custody, and to place youth in a secure Division of Youth Services facility after conviction. The letter concluded that these children were subjected to harsher treatment because of their race.

For example, the DOJ found that Black children were almost 1.46 times more likely than white children to have their cases handled formally, even after introducing control variables such as gender, age, risk factors, and severity of the allegation. When Black children were under the supervision of the Court and violated the conditions equivalent to probation or parole, the Court committed Black children almost three times more to the Missouri Division of Youth Services than white children who were under similar Court supervision.

The DOJ also found several factors that contributed to the court's constitutional deprivation of counsel for youth. Among them were "staggering" caseloads of the public defenders assigned to handle all indigent juvenile delinquency cases in the county, an arbitrary system of appointing private attorneys for children who do not qualify for public defender services, and significant delays in appointing counsel to children following detention hearings.

The DOJ found the structure of St. Louis County Family Court to be conflicted. The findings included: "The roles of judge, prosecutor and probation officer are blurred, and positions traditionally held by members of the executive branch are filled by employees who answer to the court's judges. These conflicts of interest are contrary to separation of powers principles and deprive children of adequate due process."

On December 14, 2016, after 16 months of negotiation, the DOJ reached an agreement with the St. Louis Family Court about how to reform the court’s handling of juvenile delinquency matters. The agreement included several measures to address the court’s due process and equal protection deficiencies.

The Court agreed to double the number of defense attorneys that represent indigent youth, and ensure that defendants get counsel in a timely fashion; undergo specific juvenile defense training for attorneys; establish a clear policy for determining whether a defendant is considered indigent; prohibit police from interrogating defendants at the juvenile detention center unless an attorney is present; prohibit deputy juvenile officers from talking about the case with the defendant, or using incriminating statements the defendant might make in later hearings; conduct probable cause hearings to make sure that there is evidence the child actually committed the offense for which he or she is being charged; standardize plea hearings to ensure that all guilty pleas are made knowingly and voluntarily.

The parties jointly agreed on appointing the Honorable Arthur E. Grim to conduct a compliance review to determine if the St. Louis Family Court had implemented the provisions of the 2016 agreement. Judge Grim conducted a three-day review beginning on April 17, 2017, and assigned one of four standards in evaluating compliance with each of the provisions:

  1. Noncompliance, where the Court has made no notable progress in achieving compliance on any of the key components of the provision;
  2. Beginning compliance, where the Court has made notable progress in achieving compliance with a few, but less than half, of the key components of the provision;
  3. Partial compliance, where the Court has made notable progress in achieving compliance with the key components, but substantial work remains; and,
  4. Substantial compliance, where the Court has met or achieved all or nearly all of the components of a particular substantive provision, and that deviation from obligations set forth in the provision is slight.
Overall, Judge Grim found that the St. Louis County Juvenile Court had substantially complied with most of the Due Process provisions in the agreement. These provisions included things such as employing two full-time Juvenile Defense Attorneys, protecting against self-incrimination by revising the Court’s interrogation policy and Statement of Rights and Waiver forms, and providing due process trainings for Court and staff. One group of provisions labeled “DMC” stood for “Disproportionate Minority Contact” and included measures to reform the disproportionate amount of Black youth being formally charged by the Court. These measures related to the Court’s data collection and reporting processes, as well as training programs for the Court and Staff on topics like implicit bias. Judge Grim found that most of the DMC provisions had only been partially complied with. Judge Grim conduced three more investigations in March and August of 2018 and March 2019 to assess the Court’s compliance with the due process provisions. Judge Grim concluded that the Court had achieved full compliance as of March 7, 2019.

The DOJ conducted additional reviews of the Court’s compliance with the DMC provisions. The parties jointly appointed Mark A. Greenwald as the Subject Matter Expert to head this investigation. In November 2019, Mr. Greenwald found upon conducting his fifth review that all of the DMC provisions met the requirements of substantial compliance. Even though the Court achieved full compliance with the Due Process and DMC provisions of the 2016 agreement, there has not yet been an official press release regarding the overall status of the compliance review.

Summary Authors

Ginny Lee (4/7/2017)

Anjali Baliga (4/16/2021)

People


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Cuncannan, Jacqueline (District of Columbia)

Gupta, Vanita (District of Columbia)

Jackson, Shelley (District of Columbia)

Jansen, Regina (District of Columbia)

Lynch, Loretta (New York)

Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Dandurand, Joesph Paul (Missouri)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Greenwald, Mark A. (Pennsylvania)

Grim, Arthur E. (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Cuncannan, Jacqueline (District of Columbia)

Gupta, Vanita (District of Columbia)

Jackson, Shelley (District of Columbia)

Jansen, Regina (District of Columbia)

Lynch, Loretta (New York)

Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Dandurand, Joesph Paul (Missouri)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Greenwald, Mark A. (Pennsylvania)

Grim, Arthur E. (Pennsylvania)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court St. Louis, Missouri

July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015

Findings Letter/Report

Re: Investigation of the St. Louis County Family Court

July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015

Findings Letter/Report

Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States Department of Justice and the St. Louis County Family Court

Dec. 14, 2016

Dec. 14, 2016

Settlement Agreement

First Report of the Independent Auditor and DMC Subject Matter Expert

June 22, 2017

June 22, 2017

Monitor/Expert/Receiver Report

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Missouri

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Key Dates

Filing Date: Nov. 18, 2013

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

St. Louis County Family Court, City

Defendant Type(s):

Law-enforcement

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 14141)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Self-incrimination

Equal Protection

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Private Settlement Agreement

Order Duration: 2016 - None

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Develop anti-discrimination policy

Reporting

Recordkeeping

Monitoring

Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)

Required disclosure

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Fetus Identity

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system

Classification / placement

Conflict of interest

Disciplinary procedures

Disparate Impact

Disparate Treatment

Failure to supervise

Failure to train

Juveniles

Pattern or Practice

Placement in detention facilities

Record-keeping

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black