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July 2, 2009

California Supreme Court rejects Apprendi challenge to using juve convictions as strikes

Apprendi fans have a lot worth reading today.  In addition to my new little discussion of Apprendi-land in the Columbia Law Review's sidebar (discussed here), today the California Supreme Court has lots of Apprendi talk in People v. Nguyen, No. S154847 (July 2, 2009) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion starts: 

California‘s Three Strikes Law (Pen. Code, §§ 667, subds. (b)-(i), 1170.12, subds. (a)-(d))1 increases the maximum sentence for an adult felony offense upon proof that the defendant has suffered one or more qualifying "prior felony convictions" — a term that specifically includes certain prior criminal adjudications sustained by the defendant, while a minor, under the juvenile court law.  Does the United States Constitution allow such use of a prior juvenile adjudication even though there was no right to a jury trial in the juvenile proceeding?  Like the majority of recent decisions to address the issue, we conclude the answer is yes.

Here is how Judge Kennard's solo dissent gets started:

In California, a minor accused of a crime in a juvenile court proceeding — unlike a person accused in an adult criminal proceeding — has no right to a jury trial. The lack of that right becomes an issue when, as here, a juvenile court adjudication is based on one of certain statutorily specified felonies and later the juvenile, by then an adult, commits another felony.  At that point, California's "Three Strikes" law comes into play.  Because of the prior juvenile court adjudication, the sentence for the new felony conviction is doubled, as happened here; with two such priors, the prison term is a minimum of 25 years to life.

Central here is the United States Supreme Court‘s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466, 490 (Apprendi), which holds that the federal Constitution requires a jury trial on "any fact" that increases the maximum penalty for a charged offense.  Is that right violated when, as here, the additional punishment is imposed because of prior juvenile criminal conduct for which there was no right to a jury trial?  The majority perceives no problem.  I do.

July 2, 2009 at 01:41 PM | Permalink


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Unless there is a felony conviction I am not seeing mentioned that occured after this guy was no longer a minor I would have almost preferred to see him try and preserve a 2nd amendmnet claim that juviline adjudication is insuffecient to forever bar frearms onwership. Although the timing may not have been present to think it would be worthwhile.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 2, 2009 2:18:48 PM

Mr. Otis, what do you think? The government obviously has the power to do this, so says the CSC, but is it fair? I never thought Three Strikes was fair when applied to decades old felonies pled under the controlling habitual criminal law at the time of the plea. That old habitual criminal law was what a defendant could understand to be controlling with any subsequent convictions, not Three Strikes. But at least they had the right to a jury trial, and all its protections, back when they pleaded guilty and presumably understood the potential of some type of habitual criminal consequences on subsequent convictions.

It reminds me of those current Ally Bank commercials about a bad guy bank making up the rules on the fly.

Posted by: George | Jul 2, 2009 4:33:47 PM

Imprecision and indeterminacy are particularly inappropriate in the application of a criminal statute. Years of prison hinge on the scope of ACCA's residual provision, yet its boundaries are ill defined.

Posted by: mbt shoes | Jan 7, 2011 9:19:52 PM

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