This week we looked for a case that related to the recent pages we have been adding to the website lately. We ended up coming across a case where the Court of Appeals of Minnesota had to decide whether the district court was wrong in declaring that a particular juvenile should be prosecuted as an adult.
Typically, the court system in our country treats juveniles differently than adults because of the idea that juveniles simply aren’t as mature as adults and because of that, shouldn’t be held to as high of standards. That’s why the system looks for a more rehabilitative approach when dealing with juveniles under the age of 18. However, sometimes a kid is accused of committing acts so bad, that a court decides it has no choice but to prosecute the kid as an adult. (This is why it is important to contact an attorney immediately if someone has alleged that your child acted illegally. Being charged as an adult carries much more severe consequences than being charged as a juvenile.)
That’s the situation we have with this case, A11-117. Because this case involves a juvenile as well as a rape victim, both names are not public record.
One night back in June 2010, the 40-year-old victim was standing alone at a bus stop in north Minneapolis. The 14-year-old juvenile approached her, waving a gun and told her to follow him and do as he said or he would kill her. Behind a nearby house, the juvenile forced the victim to perform oral sex and then raped her. He also used very vulgar language, which was something the court later held against him.
Once the juvenile fled, the victim called the police. At the scene, the police found the condom and from that obtained a DNA sample. In July 2010, the juvenile had given a DNA sample to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Because of that, police were able to identify the juvenile when he was arrested three months later for armed robbery.
Because of the juvenile’s track record, the state petitioned the court to certify the juvenile as an adult. Since June 2009, the juvenile had created an extensive record for himself. Three bench warrants and 10 warrants had been issued against him for probation violations. He had been convicted of assault three other times, had five out-of-school suspensions and repeatedly ran away from rehabilitation centers within 24 hours of arrival. During the trial, it was also noted that the juvenile’s behavior got more and more severe each time he offended.
When deciding whether to charge a juvenile as an adult, the court looks to six factors: the seriousness of the offense, the child’s culpability, the child’s prior record of delinquency, the child’s past programming history, the adequacy of the punishment or programming available in the juvenile justice system and the dispositional options available for the child. The juvenile argued that the district court erred in finding against him concerning these issues on each one except his culpability.
Obviously, the court agreed that this was a very serious offense since the juvenile raped the victim at gunpoint.
The juvenile then tried to argue on appeal that his record weighs against the court certifying him as an adult because his delinquency record is short and involves no felonies or gang-related activity. He also tried to argue that since his assaults involved a family members two of the three times, that they were less serious. However, the court found that the level of violence increased over time and the fact that his mother was a victim of the assault did not make it a less serious offense.
The juvenile also tried to argue that the juvenile justice system failed him by continually returning him to a home that contributed to his violent conduct. However, the court quickly shot holes in that argument when they noted that the juvenile was barely at home during the year he created his extensive record. How can a home life contribute to a juvenile’s violent conduct if he’s never home for them to influence him?
The court gave similar reasoning for upholding the district court’s finding that the juvenile’s programming history weighed in favor of certifying him as an adult. The juvenile tried to blame his programming history on his family situation and the court’s failure to place him in Woodland Hills, but the court didn’t buy it. The court said that the juvenile’s “undisputed near-total failure to respond to programming undercuts his family and system-failure arguments.”
The most interesting factors of this decision lie with the last two issues that need to be considered by the court in this situation. The district court found that if the juvenile is designated as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile (EJJ), which means the court issues an adult and juvenile sanction against the juvenile, that he would be eligible for five years of treatment, punishment and supervision and that the juvenile’s stayed 144-month adult sentence could be executed if he violated probation. The district court found there was adequate programming available. However, the Court of Appeals did not think the record showed that EJJ was appropriate because the juvenile had repeatedly rejected therapy.
Despite this, the Court of Appeals agreed that when all these factors are balanced out, the results favor adult certification. The two most heavily weighed factors are the seriousness of the offense and the juvenile’s prior record. Considering the juvenile we are dealing with and the impressive record he acquired over just a year’s time, it is not surprising the court thought he should be considered an adult in these proceedings.
But parents rest easy. It’s not easy to get certified as an adult when a juvenile does something illegal. So don’t immediately fret if your child allegedly commits a crime, just talk to a lawyer who will have a good idea of how these six factors would balance out in court.
By: Kari Wilberg
Landon J. Ascheman, Esq.
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