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May 2, 2005

11th Circuit says juvenile offenses come within prior conviction exception

Just yesterday I had a chance in this post to spotlight a thoughtful state case which concluded, following the Ninth Circuit's decision in United States v. Tighe, 266 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001), that a "juvenile adjudication does not constitute a prior conviction under the Apprendi exception."  Coincidently, the Eleventh Circuit had occasion to speak to this issue for the very first time today in US v. Burge, No. 04-13468 (11th Cir. May 2, 2005) (available here).  And fans of circuit court sentencing action will not be surprised to learn that the 11th Circuit in Burge was not convinced by the 9th Circuit's approach to juvenile offenses and the prior conviction exception.

Burge cover a lot of interesting sentencing ground, including Booker and Shepard issues.  But its extended analysis of the place of juvenile convictions within the Apprendi story is the most noteworthy aspect of the decision.  Here's a taste:

"[T]rial by jury in the juvenile court's adjudicative stage is not a constitutional requirement." McKeiver, 403 U.S. at 545.  Further, although the Court's Jones and Apprendi decisions discuss the right to a jury trial as a procedural safeguard, neither case addresses juvenile adjudications and neither case explicitly states that a juvenile adjudication can only count as a prior conviction under the ACCA if the juvenile was afforded the right to a jury trial.  At a minimum, however, Apprendi's prior conviction exception is based on the procedural safeguards that attach to a prior conviction or juvenile adjudication.

Prior to Almendarez-Torres, we recognized that the fact of a prior conviction under section 924(e) "merely links the severity of the defendant's punishment for a violation of the predicate offense § 922(g) to the number of previous felony convictions" and need not be submitted for jury consideration because "the defendant has received the totality of constitutional protections due in the prior proceeding on the predicate offense." United States v. McGatha, 891 F.2d 1520, 1526 (11th Cir. 1990).  We explained that "[i]t was unnecessary for the jury to consider the defendant's prior convictions, for these convictions were not an element of the offense for which he was indicted and to which he entered his plea of guilty." Id. at 1525. And we concluded that "[w]hile the Due Process Clause indeed requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime, in sentencing those already constitutionally convicted the courts have traditionally operated without constitutionally imposed burdens of proof." Id. at 1526-27.  Although we did not consider the use of a prior juvenile adjudication in McGatha, its rationale is consistent with [other circuit decisions rejecting Tighe], and can be applied in this case.  Accordingly, "[a] prior nonjury juvenile adjudication that was afforded all constitutionally-required procedural safeguards can properly be characterized as a prior conviction for Apprendi purposes." Jones, 332 F.3d at 696.  Here, we are persuaded that Burge received the totality of constitutional protections due in his prior juvenile proceeding.

May 2, 2005 at 03:16 PM | Permalink


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