Friday, September 18, 2009

Appeals Court Over Rules Judge

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2009 at 9:38 PM

A Louisiana appeals court today told an Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judge he couldn’t force a juvenile defendant to get a haircut. Judge David Bell had ordered that a young man, identified only as “A.B”, cut his hair as a condition of his probation, or face jail time.

A.B. was originally placed on probation for being in possession of stolen goods. In late August, he appeared in court with his mother, so the Bell could decide if the teen was in compliance with probation requirements. He was staying under house arrest, attending school and testing negative for drugs, so Bell ruled him compliant. The judge, however, threatened to revoke probation and incarcerate A.B. if he didn’t cut his hair as Bell had verbally requested at a previous hearing. A.B.’s mother told the judge that she thought the initial ruling in the case was wrong regarding the decision to put her son on probation, and said the hair was evidence of her son’s innocence. Bell refused to take that thought into consideration.

According to court transcripts, Bell told the mother, “Well, put in a bag, baby, put it in a bag.” Bell continued on, threatening the mom that if A.B.’s dreadlocks weren’t chopped, then he would spend a year in jail.

“I don’t know how much those twists are worth,” Bell said, “but I hope they’re worth a year of his life because it’s going to be the longest year of his life, I promise you.”

Katie Schwartmann, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, says her organization became involved when A.B.’s public defender approached them regarding the judge’s comments. ACLU then filed an emergency writ yesterday, asking the Louisiana Fourth Circuit of Appeal to rescind Bell’s order.

The court appeals ruled this afternoon that Bell’s probation requirement, cutting A.B.’s hair, was not supported by the Louisiana’s Children’s Code. The court rescinded the Bell’s order.

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