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September 24, 2004

Juvenile convictions and the "prior conviction" exception

Thanks to a fast hotel connection (and funny travel sleep patterns), I am on-line and have time to post about an interesting recent Oregon state case, State v. Riley, 2004 WL 2108228 (Or. App. Sept. 22, 2004), which explores the scope of the Apprendi/Blakely "prior conviction" exception. In Riley, the specific issue concerned the use of "a juvenile adjudication in the calculation of [Riley's] criminal history score, resulting in a longer sentence than he would have received if the adjudication had not been used."

I have noted before here and here that the scope and application of the "prior conviction" exception to the Apprendi/Blakely rule will need clarification before long. The Riley decision details that there is already a federal circuit split on the specific issue of whether a juvenile adjudication is "the functional equivalent of a 'prior conviction'" for purposes of Apprendi, and the Riley court actually uses the fact of this legal disagreement to conclude that "the trial court's use of defendant's juvenile adjudication in calculating his sentence was not obviously and indisputably error."

The legal debate over juvenile adjudications within the "prior conviction" exception is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, of course, as noted here and here, the very exception itself is theoretically shaky. Second, because juveniles are not afforded the right to a jury trial, juvenile proceedings are not subject to procedures which may give adult prior convictions the added reliability justifying an exception to the Apprendi/Blakely rule. Third, the court split on this issue is not just between 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 it also encompasses major state court rulings. See State v. Brown, 2004 WL 1490192 (La. July 06, 2004).

September 24, 2004 at 02:24 AM | Permalink


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I don't agree with the last paragraph. There are good reasons to give less weight to juvenile "convictions." There is no reason to impose a stricter evidentiary standard for proving the existence of a juvenile record. Unless you make juvenile convictions subject to collateral attack, an exception to the general rule, the proof is pretty much the same.

Defendants in Massachusetts subject to statutory increased penalties as repeat offenders (most often DUI cases) generally waive their right to jury trial on prior convictions. It doesn't seem to be a valuable right, in practical terms, compared to the right to a jury trial on the basic crime. But there are rare cases where the record is disputed and the Appeals Court has ruled that the prosecution can't drop the "subsequent offense" part of the charge and then come back at sentencing and ask the judge to consider the prior convictions.

I'm not a lawyer, just interested in the subject.

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