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Articles Posted in Juvenile Cases

Juvenile defendants may have the option of “deferred disposition.” In a deferred disposition, the defendant does not contest the state’s facts.  If the court finds the statement of uncontested facts is sufficient, it finds the defendant guilty.  Disposition, however, is deferred pending satisfaction of the conditions ordered by the court.  If the defendant meets the conditions, the conviction is vacated.

An ongoing question has been whether juvenile defendants subject to deferred disposition are required to submit a DNA sample.

A juvenile defendant recently challenged an order that required him to submit a DNA sample.  The juvenile was charged with two counts of theft of a motor vehicle, which is a felony.  The trial court granted his motion for deferred disposition. He objected to submitting a DNA sample, but the court overruled the objection.  The court entered guilty findings on both charges and deferred disposition.  The court also stayed the requirement he submit a DNA sample pending his appeal.

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After the U.S. Supreme Court determined that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles was unconstitutional, the state of Washington enacted a statute requiring the re-sentencing of Washington criminal defendants who had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles. RCW 10.95.035.

A defendant who was re-sentenced after the change in the law recently challenged his new sentence.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant killed two people during a robbery in 1997 at the age of 17.  He was sentenced to the then-mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for each of two counts of aggravated first degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon, to be served consecutively, plus a deadly weapon enhancement of 24 months on each count.

Following a hearing in 2017, the defendant was re-sentenced to two concurrent terms of 42 years to life.  The defendant appealed and the appeals court affirmed.  The Washington Supreme Court remanded the case for reconsideration based on a recent decision.

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A charge of harassment can punish speech, raising First Amendment issues.  When the state charges a person with harassment under Washington criminal law, it has to prove the defendant’s statements were not protected speech.  One way to do this is to show that the words constituted a “true threat.”  A true threat is not hyperbole or a joke, but a serious threat.  Courts do not consider what the speaker intended.  Instead, they look at whether a reasonable person would foresee the statement being interpreted as intent to physically harm someone.  The court considers this question in the context of the actual intended audience.  Courts may consider whether there was a specific plan to harm, the tone of the message, and whether it was repeated to multiple audiences.

In a recent case, a 17-year-old defendant successfully challenged her adjudication of guilt on a harassment charge.  During an argument with her mother, the defendant texted her friends.  In one text, she stated “Bet imma get her killed [. . .]” She texted another friend, “Imma [expletive] kill this [expletive].”

The mother subsequently looked in the phone and found the texts.  She also found violent comments the defendant made about another person.  The mother changed the locks on the house and slept with a knife.  She showed screen shots of the messages to the police.

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The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution protects individuals from being forced to incriminate themselves.  Before interrogating a person in custody, the police have to tell them of their right to remain silent and that what they say could be used against them.  The police must also advise them of the right to speak with an attorney before being question and to have the attorney present.  The police must inform them of their right to counsel, which may be appointed if they cannot afford one.  Finally, the police have to advise them of their right to stop the questioning.  Under Washington law, a juvenile has the same rights against self-incrimination as adults.  The rights of a juvenile under 12 years old may only be waived by a parent, guardian, or custodian, but a juvenile at least 12 years old may waive their own rights.  RCW 13.40.140.

In a recent case, a juvenile defendant appealed her conviction arguing her Miranda waiver should not be considered valid.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, when the defendant was 11 or 12 years old, she took videos of her friend, who was the same age, showering and getting dressed.  After the defendant turned 13, the friend learned the videos were posted on the defendant’s Snapchat account.  The friend asked her to delete them.  The defendant denied posting them and said she did not have a phone anymore and that her Snapchat account was hacked.

The friend’s stepfather contacted the defendant’s mother, but the mother also stated the defendant did not have a device to post them.  A third girl testified she saw the videos when the defendant posted them to a group chat including her and the friend that evening.

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The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the right to be free from self-incrimination. The police must advise suspects of their rights when they are subject to a custodial interrogation by a state agent.  If they fail to give the Miranda warning, then the statements made during the custodial interrogation are presumed to be involuntary and are to be excluded from evidence.  A juvenile defendant in a Washington criminal case recently challenged his conviction on the grounds the court erred in admitting the statement he made to the chief of police in the principal’s office.

The fourteen-year-old defendant had been talking about video games with some classmates in one of their middle school classes.  The other students said the defendant said something like “he was going to shoot the school.” One student said he did not really take the statement seriously because the defendant said that sort of thing “all the time” and he thought the defendant was joking.

The other student also said the defendant had previously made similar statements he had not taken seriously.  This time, however, he was concerned and told the teacher.  He said the defendant did not make the statement to anyone individually, but muttered it to himself.  He said he was afraid the defendant would hurt someone.

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Generally, a police officer needs a warrant to seize a person suspected of a crime.  There are some exceptions to the warrant requirement, including the Terry stop.  Terry allows an officer to briefly stop and question someone if the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  The officer’s suspicion must be based on specific and articulable facts and be individualized to the person.  Challenging the validity of a seizure, including a Terry stop, can be an important aspect of a Washington criminal defense case.

A minor defendant recently appealed his conviction, arguing the officer did not have grounds to conduct a Terry stop.  According to the court’s opinion, the officer stopped a vehicle after seeing it roll through a stop sign.  There were three passengers in addition to the driver. The defendant was the front seat passenger.

The officer smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle.  The driver told him all of the occupants were seventeen.  The driver denied having marijuana, there being marijuana in the car, or any of the passengers having marijuana.  He said his mother used marijuana and that could have been what the officer smelled.  The officer frisked him and put him the back of the patrol car.

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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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