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August 18, 2005

Oregon Supreme Court rules juvenile adjudications do not come within "prior conviction" exception

Today, in Oregon v. Harris, No. S51600 (Or. Aug. 18, 2005) (available here), the Oregon Supreme Court issued a thoughtful opinion addressing "the use of prior juvenile delinquency adjudications to increase sentences for adult felony convictions under the Oregon Felony Sentencing Guidelines (guidelines)."  An opening paragraph provides highlights of the arguments and the holding:

[D]efendant first argues generally that, because juvenile adjudications in Oregon are accomplished without jury trials, any subsequent reliance upon those adjudications to increase a defendant's criminal sentence violates the jury trial guarantee of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Alternatively, defendant argues that, in any event, the trial court unconstitutionally used the fact of his past juvenile record to impose an increased criminal sentence in his particular case.  Defendant's first argument is not well-taken. As to his second argument, however, we hold that, under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 US 466 (2000), the manner in which the trial court used defendant's juvenile adjudication to increase his sentence amounted to an error that violated the Sixth Amendment. As a result, we vacate defendant's sentence and remand this case for resentencing.

This major ruling deepens the split in lower state and federal courts on whether juvenile adjudications fall within the "prior conviction" exception to the Apprendi/Blakely rule (see also this post from INCourts about Ryle, a pending Indiana case on point).  Consequently, this Harris ruling reinforces my belief that the validity and scope of the "prior conviction" exception is the most pressing and important post-Blakely issue needing immediate Supreme Court attention.

August 18, 2005 at 01:09 PM | Permalink


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This issue is presently before the U.S. Supreme Court in a cert. petition I filed the last week of July in U.S. v. Burge, 407 F.3d 1183 (11th Cir. 2005).

Posted by: KRogers | Aug 18, 2005 2:36:03 PM

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Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 9:21:45 PM

Dear Prof. Berman:

I am an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the 5th Circuit. I have a case currently pending sentence with the following issue, which -to my knowledge- has not been raised before:

18 year old female tries to cross border with one kilo of cocaine. She is looking at 5 year minimum. Would be safety valve eligible except for the fact that, between the ages of 13-15 she was getting into fights with her mother, which eventually landed her in the Texas Youth Commission.
We all know the rule that we cannot depart downward in order to get the safety valve and we all know that even juvenile dispositions that occurred within five years of the instant offense can be scored under the Fed guidelines.
My issue is that this rule produces sentences that violate 3553(a).

If this were a case of a young kid who was selling dimebags all throughout his adolescence and then graduated into a federal drug conviction, then I understand why we would want to count juvenile adjudications, but that's not the case here. It's a "hail mary" of an argument , I know, but I think this is something the sentencing commission should definitely revisit. Thanks,

F. Valcarcel AFPD

Posted by: Francisco Valcarcel | Oct 14, 2009 11:59:29 AM

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