Articles Posted in Juvenile Cases

Teenagers sometimes act impulsively, and, unfortunately, if someone gets hurt as a result of those impulsive actions, it could result in Washington criminal charges.  In a recent case, a juvenile defendant challenged his conviction, arguing in part the court should have considered adolescent brain development and maturity in assessing his culpability for assault.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, three friends were in eighth grade at the same middle school.  The court used pseudonyms for all of the boys: Timothy Martin, Andrew Christopher, and Bob Simpson.  While Christopher was sitting on a desk talking to Simpson one day, Martin came up from behind and put Christopher into a choke hold.

Martin said it was a professional wrestling choke hold that he had seen during professional wrestling matches.  He knew it could stop a person’s breathing and cause them to become unconscious.  Martin said he wanted to show the choke hold to Simpson and did not mean to interrupt Christopher’s air or blood flow.

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Washington law prohibits possession of a firearm by a person, including a juvenile, who has been convicted of a serious offense.  Washington law allows a person to petition the court for restoration of the right to possess a firearm in certain circumstances.  It is not uncommon for a Washington criminal defendant to challenge the loss of firearms rights or the denial of restoration of those rights.  In a recent case, a defendant challenged a court’s denial of his restoration petition.

The seventeen-year-old defendant admitted to second degree malicious mischief based on intentional damage to a vehicle.  The juvenile court found him solely responsible for the damage and he pleaded guilty in exchange for deferred disposition.  As part of the terms of the deferred disposition, he lost the right to possess a firearm.

The juvenile court ultimately ordered the defendant to pay the estimated cost of repair in restitution as a condition of disposition.  The court subsequently dismissed the deferred disposition and vacated the conviction, but indicated it would not seal the case until restitution was made.

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In some ways, Washington juvenile offenders may be treated differently than they would be if they were adult offenders.  Both the Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have acknowledged that “children are different.”

In a recent case, a juvenile defendant challenged her sentence.  She was a first-time offender.  She did not meet the conditions of her deferred disposition, so it was revoked.  The juvenile court found the standard sentencing range would be insufficient and entered a manifest injustice disposition and imposed 24 to 32 weeks total incarceration.

The defendant appealed and the appeals court granted expedited status.  However, according to the appeals court’s opinion, its review was “compromised by the transgressions of the prosecutor.” The appeals court noted the prosecutor had not timely obtained findings of fact and conclusions of law. When the prosecutor did obtain the findings and conclusions after being ordered to do so by the clerk of court, they did so in an ex parte proceeding without giving notice to the defendant or her attorney.  The defendant raised the issue and included it in her brief.  The prosecutor did not directly address the issue in its brief, but instead referenced a different pleading.

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Generally, unless there is an applicable exception, both the Washington and U.S. constitutions require a warrant supported by probable cause before someone acting on behalf of the government can conduct a search.  One exception to the warrant requirement applies to school officials.  Under the school search exception, a school official may conduct a reasonable search of a student.  This does not mean a school can search any student at any time for any reason—the search must be reasonable.  Washington criminal courts use the “McKinnon Factors” to determine if a school search was reasonable.

A defendant challenged her conviction on the grounds the search was unlawful.  According to the appeals court opinion, the school received information about a threat involving the juvenile defendant, who was not a student of that school.  Staff looked her up in the school district’s system so they could identify her.  When the vice principal saw her, he asked her to come into the office.

In the office, the principal asked the defendant why she was there.  After a few minutes, the principal determined she was uncooperative and told her they were calling the police.  The vice principal testified the defendant would have been allowed to leave if she had chosen to do so.  He also testified they did not have the authority to discipline her since she was not a student at their school.

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In a series of decisions, the United States Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to impose certain severe sentences on juvenile offenders.  The Court first found the death penalty unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.  Then, it found a sentence of life without parole to be unconstitutional for any juvenile offender who did not commit a homicide.  The Court later held that mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.  Following these decisions, Washington juvenile sentencing laws were revised to eliminate mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.  A new Washington law also required re-sentencing of juvenile offenders who had been sentenced to life without parole: RCW 10.95.030.  Washington also enacted RCW 9.94A.730, which allows juvenile offenders to petition for early release after serving 20 years.

An eligible offender sought re-sentencing under RCW 10.95.035. He had been convicted of multiple crimes as a juvenile, including aggravated murder and premeditated murder in 1992.  He received a sentence of life without parole for aggravated murder and a consecutive sentence for premeditated murder.

At his re-sentencing hearing, he argued his sentences should run concurrently.  The state argued the statute only gave the court the authority to address the sentence of life without parole and that the consecutive sentence was required pursuant to RCW 9.94A.589 because the crimes involve d multiple violent offenses that arose from separate and distinct criminal conduct.  The judge agreed with the state and sentenced the defendant to 25 years to life for aggravated murder and left the sentence for the premeditated murder at 280 months to be served consecutively.  The defendant appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.  The Washington Supreme Court granted review upon the defendant’s petition.

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Washington Juvenile Courts are subject to their own rules, which may be different from the rules and procedures that apply to a criminal trial of an adult.  A juvenile being tried in a juvenile court does not have a right to a jury. RCW 13.04.021. The case is instead heard by a judge. The court must find the juvenile guilty or not guilty and state its findings of fact.  The court must include the evidence it relied upon in its findings.  The court must also enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law in a case that is appealed.  The findings must include the ultimate facts that prove each element of the crime.  JuCR 7.11.  Generally, the appropriate remedy on appeal for a juvenile court’s failure to enter sufficient findings is remand to the juvenile court to enter the appropriate findings.

A juvenile recently challenged her conviction based on insufficient findings by the juvenile court.  The juvenile was arrested after a woman reported seeing a girl rummaging around in her car and then riding away on a bicycle.  A sergeant from the sheriff’s department found the juvenile sitting on a bicycle and looking into a truck a couple of blocks from the woman’s home.  According to the appeals court opinion, the girl provided the officer with a name that was not her own. The sergeant arrested the girl.  When the girl was searched, police found two knives, two speakers, and some change when she searched her.

The juvenile was charged with second degree vehicle prowling and providing a false statement to a public servant.  According to the juvenile court’s findings, the woman identified the juvenile as the girl she saw in her car, based on the girl’s clothing, complexion, and build.  The juvenile court found the juvenile guilty of both charges.

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