Monday, February 25, 2008

In Re Carl N. (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 25, 2008)

I was principally interested in this case because it concerned a 19-year old in San Diego. Someone who, from the outset of the opinion, I gathered I wouldn't particularly like to meet alone on a dark evening. The first sentence of the opinion reads: "Carl N., a ward of the juvenile court, who was born in 1988 and has a long history of juvenile delinquency (including vandalism, gang activity, drug abuse, a felony assault, and multiple violations of probation) and repeated failure to benefit from less restrictive commitments, appeals an order committing him to the California Youth Authority (CYA) after he admitted he had again violated probation."

But then I read the rest of the opinion. I'm not quibbling with the outcome of the case, as I am confident that Justice Nares is right that Carl was properly committed to the CYA. But I was surprised that my reaction to Carl was not your typical: "Oh my, a sociopath. Glad he's off the streets." Rather, Carl's offenses -- which are indeed numerous -- largely consist of tagging and vandalism and hanging out with the wrong crowd. It's a story of someone not who I sense is an utterly unredeemable person, but rather someone who, for whatever reason, just can't get it together. Who has been incapable, over many many years and notwithstanding the efforts of many many people, of doing anything more with his life other than being a total loser. Or even understanding that there's something called a meaningful life, and that this is within the realm of possibility for him.

My reaction to the usual 19-year old portrayed in the pages of the California Appellate Reports is not a positive one given the types of individually typically discussed therein. But, here, I had a slightly different reaction. A reaction that, crazily enough, is in some ways more depressing than one in which you're reading about a murderer or child molester or whatever. Because for those people you can more easily write them off as monsters or people who, however they became that way, unambiguously need to be locked up. Not so here. Yes, everything that we've tried with Carl N. has failed. Yes, we've got to admit that we're not likely to succeed at this point, so he's got to be locked up at the CYA. But (1) that's hardly going to succeed in the long term; we know that's likely only going to make things worse in the end, and (2) I have a stronger feeling than usual that I wish we could find a better way.

That's my idiosyncratic reaction, anyway, to this otherwise routine case.