NM Supreme Court Rejects Constitutional Rights in Juvenile Sentencing

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a defendant to more than the statutory maximum provided for a crime unless the facts supporting the enhancement are proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Via Sentencing Law and Policy, the New Mexico Supreme Court has decided that Apprendi does not apply to juveniles and upheld a 25 year sentence for a child. The opinion is here.

From the dissent by Justice Edward Chavez:

The Framers of the Bill of Rights would be alarmed to learn that a child can be condemned to an adult prison for up to a life sentence without at least the same constitutional protections afforded adults.


The majority concludes that it is constitutional to increase a child’s sentence by decades and imprison the child in an adult prison, based on additional findings relating to the offense and the child, even though a judge and not a jury makes those findings and even though the judge finds such facts by something less than a reasonable doubt. Because I believe the time has come for us to unequivocally hold that a youthful offender is entitled to the same constitutional protections as an adult, I respectfully dissent.

I'm respectfully appalled. The charges:

Child [was charged] with three counts of shooting from a motor vehicle (great bodily harm), three counts of aggravated battery (deadly weapon), and one count of unlawful possession of a handgun by a minor, and one count of tampering with evidence. Prior to trial, Child pleaded guilty to two counts of shooting from a motor vehicle (great bodily harm) and to two counts of aggravated battery (deadly weapon) (firearm enhancement). In return, the State agreed to drop the remaining charges.

The possible sentences:

[The child] faced either a juvenile disposition until the age of twenty-one with the Children, Youth & Families Department, or an adult sentence of up to twenty-six years with the Department of Corrections.

The sentence: 25 years.

[T]he judge found that Child was not amenable to treatment or rehabilitation as a child in available facilities, and that he was not eligible for commitment to an institution for children with developmental disabilities or mental disorders. The judge imposed an adult sentence of twenty-five years imprisonment with the Department of Corrections.

The majority's conclusion, for which it relied on a later Supreme Court decision addressing Apprendi in the context of consecutive sentencing (not the same thing in my view): Apprendi doesn't apply to juvenile proceedings:

In sum, because the amenability determination historically has not been made by the jury, applying Apprendi would interfere unnecessarily with New Mexico’s traditional discretion in administering a system of juvenile justice. We hold that the amenability determination is not within the scope of the Apprendi rule and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial does not apply to amenability proceedings.

As the dissent notes, the child was sentenced to 22 extra years based on a judge's finding he was not amenable to treatment:

In this case, the child was condemned to an adult prison for twenty-five years based on a judge’s finding, not beyond a reasonable doubt but by clear and convincing evidence, that the child was not amenable to treatment in an available treatment facility. Without this finding, the judge could only commit the child to the Children, Youth & Families Department until he reached age twenty-one... which for this child would have been three and one-half years. Thus, the severe consequence to the child was being confined in an adult prison approximately twenty-two years longer than what his factual concessions alone authorized.

Justice Chavez reminds that we are in America:

In America an adult cannot be imprisoned unless a jury finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the facts that support imposition of the penalty. ... If the legislative branch defines a maximum sentence for a discrete crime, but also authorizes a judge to increase the maximum sentence for that discrete crime based on additional findings, the defendant has a Fifth and Sixth Amendment right to have a jury find the additional facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

As to why Oregon v. Ice doesn't apply, the dissent says:

First, as for adults, the historical practice at common law was for a jury to find all facts that the law made essential for the punishment of a child between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Second, if we are to honor our state sovereignty, we should not easily discard this State’s insistence that a youthful offender has a constitutional right to a jury trial. The approach taken by the majority will mark the first time this Court has lessened the protections of a constitutional right on the altar of state sovereignty. Third, in this case the child was sentenced for a discrete offense not for “multiple offenses different in character or committed at different times.”

Juveniles are entitled to the protection of the Constitution.

[P]roof only of the essential elements of the charged crime is insufficient to impose an adult sentence on a child. To deprive a child of the right to have a jury determine all of the facts essential to punishing him or her as an adult is both fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional. The Legislature “may not manipulate the definition of a crime in a way that relieves the Government of its constitutional obligations to charge each element in the indictment, submit each element to the jury, and prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The dissenting judge even disagrees with the finding the child was not amendable to treatment. There was a lot of testimony that he was, but that programs weren't available (some because he was not indigent and couldn't qualify.)

Bottom line, to the dissent:

A youthful offender in New Mexico also should be entitled to the same constitutional protections enjoyed by adults in this state. No matter how much we gloss over it, an amenability hearing is nothing more than a hearing on aggravating circumstances relating to either the offense or the offender.

...We should not tolerate this disparity in treatment. When the words “no person” appear in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the words “the accused” appear in the Sixth Amendment, we should not interpret them to mean “no adult person” or “the adult accused.” Similarly, when Article II, Section 12 of the New Mexico Constitution confers the right of trial by jury “to all” and Article II, Section 18 states that “no person” shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law, we should not interpret them to mean “to all adults” or “no adult person.”

I'm also surprised Chief Judge Charlie Daniels, an outstanding criminal defense attorney before being appointed to the bench three years ago, ruled with the majority.

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  • Display: Sort:
    constitutional right? (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Wed Oct 20, 2010 at 08:35:42 PM EST
    Isn't being tried and sentenced as a juvenile a privilege awarded to certain juveniles as opposed to a constitutional right belonging to all citizens under the age of eighteen?  The main error in this case may be that the judge should have procedurally declared him an adult first and then proceeded with the trial (or guilty plea to prevent the trial).  How that would have changed the outcome is unclear. I don't think that juveniles in most states get to have a jury decide whether they get to have their case heard in juvenile or adult court; aren't they tried in one court or another?

    Is this something that can be appealed (none / 0) (#2)
    by republicratitarian on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 07:40:03 AM EST
    to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or since it has been decided at the state Supreme Court level is it dead?
    Why have a Juvenile system if you can just try someone who is not legally an adult as an adult? Or worse yet, try them under a Juvenile system and give them an adult sentence.

    The problem (none / 0) (#3)
    by nyjets on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 09:40:50 AM EST
    The problem witht the Juvenile system is that the accused, if found guilty will always get a slap on the wrist for serious crimes. The person will usually be released around their early 20's. So while the juvenile system is great for minor crimes, it is inadequate for serious crimes, like for example, the crimes the person commited in case in question.