Washington Juvenile Court Jurisdiction Cannot Be Waived for All Types of Charges

Juvenile cases are sometimes transferred to adult criminal court.  The requirements regarding a court holding a hearing on the issue of declining jurisdiction are set forth in RCW 13.40.110.  An appeals court recently considered whether Washington juvenile court jurisdiction could be waived for any type of case, or if the court’s authority was limited to the types of cases identified in the statute as eligible for a decline hearing.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, a 17-year-old juvenile was charged with two counts of a gross misdemeanor, fourth degree assault.  He moved to have the case moved to adult criminal court, partly to have a jury trial and an opportunity to vacate his convictions.  He argued a juvenile court may decline jurisdiction over a criminal case if the juvenile intelligently makes an express waiver pursuant to RCW 13.40.140(10). RCW 13.40.140(10) provides that any waiver of a juvenile’s rights must be “express” and “intelligently made.” The state argued that a juvenile court is only permitted to decline jurisdiction in cases in which a decline hearing is required.

The court granted the request and the state requested discretionary review.

The appeals court held juvenile courts do not have the authority to transfer juvenile cases to adult court without a decline hearing.  RCW 13.40.110 sets forth the circumstances in which a decline hearing is discretionary and those in which it is mandatory.  The statute provides that either party or even the court may move for a transfer for adult criminal prosecution. The matter must be set for a hearing if the respondent is at least 15 years old and has been “charged with a serious violent offence,” if the respondent is under 15 years old and has been charged with first or second degree murder, or if the respondent has been charged with custodial assault and is serving a minimum juvenile sentence to age 21 at the time of the charges. A decline hearing is required, unless waived by the court and both parties, if the respondent allegedly escaped and is already serving a minimum sentence to age 21. After a decline hearing, the court may order the transfer upon a finding that doing so would be in the child’s or the public’s best interest.

The court noted that the first section of the statute, addressing discretionary decline hearings, is ambiguous “[i]n isolation.” The appeals court found the ambiguity was resolved, however, when considered in light of section (3).  Section (3) allows transfer only “after a decline hearing. . .”  The appeals court found that transfer to adult criminal court is only permitted for criminal offenses that are subject to a decline hearing pursuant to RCW 13.40.110. Additionally, the court found that section (1) only allowed a decline hearing if one of the three listed conditions were met. The appeals court therefore found a juvenile court may not decline jurisdiction unless one of those conditions is met.

In a previous case, State v. Saenz, the court held a juvenile case may not be transferred to adult criminal court unless the record shows the juvenile made an express and intelligent waiver after being fully informed of the consequences.  Additionally, the juvenile court must enter certain findings in the record after the hearing, including a finding that the transfer is in the best interest of either the child or the public.

The appeals court noted that decline hearings are not permitted for gross misdemeanors. The defendant could not have a decline hearing and therefore could not meet the requirements set forth in State v. Saenz.  The appeals court also found a juvenile cannot waive juvenile court jurisdiction for a case that is not subject to a decline hearing.

The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded the case to the juvenile court for adjudication.

In some cases, adult criminal court may be preferable to juvenile court.  Pursuant to this case, however, a juvenile may not waive juvenile court jurisdiction unless the charges are subject to a decline hearing. If your child is facing criminal charges, you need the advice of an experienced Washington juvenile criminal defense attorney. Blair & Kim, PLLC, can fight for your child’s rights.  Call our office at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.


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