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May 1, 2005

The tension between the prior conviction exception and juvenile offenses

Many months ago I did this extended post spotlighting the legal debate over whether juvenile adjudications fall within the "prior conviction" exception to the Apprendi/Blakely rule.  As noted before, there is a split on this important issue that encompasses not just federal circuits, compare US v. Smalley, 294 F.3d 1030 (8th Cir. 2002), with US v. Tighe, 266 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001), but also major state court rulings. See State v. Brown, 2004 WL 1490192 (La. July 06, 2004).

Over the weekend I was sent a thoughtful opinion from Washington state on this issue, Washington v. Tagaloa, No. 04-1-03162-8 SEA (Wash. Sup. Ct. Apr. 15, 2005) (available here).  Here is the opinion's concluding paragraphs:

This Court does not question that it could make the factual determination of the existence of a prior juvenile adjudication.  However, what is called into question is the legal determination regarding that adjudication.  Unlike the prior conviction at issue in Apprendi, the instant adjudication may have received fair notice and a reasonable doubt standard, but did not receive "jury trial guarantees."  Absent this fundamental protection, the instant adjudication does not qualify under the Apprendi exception. The process adopted for juvenile adjudications may provide sufficient due process protection for the purpose for which it is employed, i.e., rehabilitation, but the procedure falls short of the full panoply of rights required for purposes of sentencing enhancement as an adult.

If we wish to continue with the notion that the juvenile system is indeed separate and apart from the adult system –- with different goals and different protections, indeed different terminology, then it is unjust and unfair to allow juvenile adjudications to be treated as convictions for purposes of sentencing enhancements without the full panoply of rights afforded to adult defendants.

For the foregoing reasons, this court rules that that Mr. Tagaloa's juvenile adjudication may not be counted as part of his adult offender score under the SRA because it violates the due process protections of the Sixth Amendment.  A juvenile adjudication does not constitute a prior conviction under the Apprendi exception.  The fact of a juvenile adjudication can not be used to increase the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum because juveniles are not afforded trial by jury to make the determination which is later used to increase an offender score.

May 1, 2005 at 08:13 PM | Permalink

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Comments

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