The Virginia House of Delegates today easily approved legislation that would give judges some discretion to make public the names of juveniles convicted of major crimes. The Senate already has passed the measure.
Over several protests that the identity of juvenile offenders should be kept confidential, the House voted 76 to 20 for a bill that would allow a judge to release the juvenile's name and address to the public if his or her crime would be a felony if committed by an adult.
"There are juveniles and there are juveniles," said Del. Erwin S. Solomon (D-Bath), who noted that his law practice had exposed him to 15-year-olds "going on 30."
"Where you have a juvenile who has committed violent sex crimes or homicide and gets out on bail or is in the custody of the parents, the public should be warned," Solomon argued.
But Del. Richard R. G. Hobson (D- Alexandria) vehemently opposed the measure, arguing that the philosophy behind keeping such records confidential "is that a juvenile should be given a second chance."
Hobson also complained that leaving it up to judges would put them under "pressure" to release the names of juvenile offenders to the press and the public.
Del. Frank M. Slayton (D-Halifax) also warned that a decision to put a juvenile's name in the newspaper could "become a matter of plea bargaining," making it easier for families with money and influence to keep their child's name confidential.
Slayton, by way of example, said he doubted whether any judge "would have the courage" to publish the names of children of members of the powerful Assembly Courts of Justice committees.
House Majority Leader A.L. Philpott (D-Henry) challenged that assumption, however, and said "there are occasions when the public has a right to know" if a dangerous juvenile is "out there" in the community.
The House approved an amendment to the measure specifying that the judge could not publicize the juvenile's name unless it was considered to be in the overwhelming publie good. This provision is expected to be accepted easily by the Senate before the bill is sent to the governor for approval.