Sunday, December 14, 2014

CCA: Courts mustn't rubber-stamp juveniles' certification as adults

A Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling this week established a new, more stringent test for when a juvenile should be certified to be tried as an adult, as Cameron Moon became the first Texas juvenile in a quarter century to successfully challenge his certification as an adult. Henceforth, trial judges must make much more detailed findings related to a defendant's background and fitness as opposed to relying mainly on the seriousness of the crime as a reason to certify. See MSM coverage following Wednesday's ruling from:
On his way out the door, Judge Tom Price authored a majority opinion declaring that, "The transfer of a juvenile offender from juvenile court to criminal court for prosecution as an adult should be regarded as the exception, not the rule." Judges Keller and Hervey dissented, holding that "a juvenile transfer order need not specify in detail the facts supporting the order." (Meyers dissented, too, but didn't sign on to Keller's opinion.) John Stride from TDCAA summed up the ruling from a prosecutor's perspective this way:
This decision certainly provides some valuable guidance as to how to properly review the sufficiency of the evidence to support a juvenile transfer order—just probably not the guidance that we were hoping for.  In order to support the certification of a juvenile offender into adult court, you must carefully review the factors set forth Section 54.02(f) of the Penal Code [sic, ed. note, he means the Family Code] and make sure that you have evidence that speaks to each of those factors.  Section 54.02(h) also requires the juvenile trial judge to be specific in his fact findings with regard to those factors.  There is one silver lining in the court’s opinion in this case.  It leaves open the possibility for a new transfer hearing if the evidence is found to be insufficient to support the findings from the first transfer hearing.  If that happens to you, as has happened to the State in this case, read footnote 90 and see if you can comply with that which is set forth there to earn yourself a second transfer hearing.
Bottom line: Texas courts can still certify juveniles as adults but judges, prosecutors and defense counsel all must first do their homework, more closely examining mitigation evidence on the defendant's behalf and making detailed, defendant-specific findings. The court has rejected a rubber-stamp approach which governed the process for nearly 40 years. Probably about time.


Anonymous said...

For anyone who claims that if we raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 we can still simply certify violent 17 year old offenders as adults, this opinion should be required reading.

Anonymous said...

There was no rubber stamp approach and that's not what the opinion says at all. To use that phrase is absurd but not in the least surprising.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:16, "rubber stamp" was my phrase for a system that doesn't require judges to justify their findings and hadn't seen certification successfully challenged in a quarter century.

Also, 8:19, after reading this opinion they should still raise the age, understanding that they're separate and distinct issues. PREA and the need to rehab county jails for 17 year olds is what's driving the raise-the-age push, and that hasn't changed with this ruling, which still allows juveniles to be certified.

Anonymous said...

Need more spending accountability pertaining to how funds are directed towards reducing recidivism. ie. towards admin salaries or towards programs that show recidivism reduction. Certification and committing high numbers of juveniles to TYC is a great way to twist the lege arm for more money. Don't think that more funding should be allocated to pay for gps monitoring, drug testing, and house arrest for truancy charges.

Anonymous said...

Here are the facts: Between 1997 and 2007 Harris County alone granted certification over 95% of the time it was requested by the state; 1441 adult certifications out of 1506 requests to be exact. It often did so using standard form orders that made the same findings in every case. One of those stock form findings, which had been in use for years, the Court of Criminal Appeals found to be "almost as misguided as the juvenile court’s logic in the present case when it orally pronounced that the appellant should be transferred, inter alia, merely for the sake of judicial economy, so that his case could be consolidated with that of his already-certified-as-an-adult codefendant."

Everyone can decide for themselves whether these facts fit their personal definition of "rubber stamp."

In the wake of this decision, the TDCAA is advising prosecutors that from now on they "must carefully review the factors set forth Section 54.02(f) of the Penal Code and make sure that you have evidence that speaks to each of those factors." They are actually going to have to start introducing evidence on the statutory factors now. What a concept!