Young criminals could expect to stand trial as adults more often and sooner than in the past if the Legislature passes a current draft of a youth serious-offender bill.
In a September speech that followed a gang-related shootout in a grocery store parking lot that left two teens dead, the governor promised a number of things to help communities deal with growing youth violence.One of those promises was a "serious youth offender" bill that targeted violent, repeat juvenile offenders. It was only a concept when Gov. Mike Leavitt mentioned it in his speech, but now it's laid out in black and white.
Thursday afternoon it came closer to reality when the state's sentencing commission endorsed the bill with only three members voting against it. If it becomes law in its current form, it would send juveniles into the adult system if they are 16 or older, have already served time in a secure facility (even out of state) and commit any other felony.
A juvenile would also face the possibility of going to the adult system by committing one of the "nine deadly sins." Those crimes are: aggravated arson, aggravated assault (involving intentionally causing serious bodily injury to another), aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, attempted aggravated murder or attempted murder.
If the bill is successful in its current form, it would drastically change the process of certification for most youths facing adult court.
Currently, certification hearings are held in juvenile court, and if a judge grants a motion to certify a teen, the teen goes to adult court for all other court proceedings, including bail and preliminary hearings.
Under the proposed bill, the certification hearings in juvenile court would also serve as preliminary and bail hearings. If there's probable cause to believe a youth committed a crime, he or she would go directly to adult district court to stand trial, bypassing circuit court, unless he or she could prove to the juvenile court judge that they should stay in juvenile court.
Among those who voted against endorsing the bill was Youth Corrections Region 2 Director Bill Nelsen.
"The reason I'm opposed to it is because the state already has a certification process in place that works well," Nelsen said. "I don't think this is going to serve the interest of (youths)."
Nelsen said he was concerned about the ability of the adult system to treat and help young offenders when the juvenile system has resources that specifically address the needs of children.
Camille Anthony, the director of the commission on criminal and juvenile justice, said addressing the needs of the young offender wasn't their first priority.
"We're making a decision that that's not the purpose of this bill," she said. "Public safety is the main purpose."
But Nelsen countered that the public's interest wasn't served if young kids just get shuffled through the adult system either.
Karlie Christensen, a member of the Youth Parole Authority, also voted against it and offered commission members an example of a teen who might qualify but shouldn't.
She said she reviewed the case of a 14-year-old with three convictions who is now in Decker Lake. He will probably be paroled by the time he's 15, and she said, the chances of him committing another felony are pretty good.
"At 14 he has a lot of growing up to do," she said. "I'm real troubled that this is the kind of kid that will go directly to the adult system. I'm concerned about the lack of any kind of judicial review."
Seventh District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen said the certification process is still there and the proposed changes would just "streamline" the process.
"It's time to send a message to somebody," Johansen said. "The secure facility system is a failure. Maybe the threat of (going to the adult system) will help. I think the public is telling us it's time to put community safety first."
Teen could enter adult system in 2 ways
There are two ways a teen could find his or her way into the adult system if the serious youth offender bill becomes law:
- Be at least 16 , be charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult and have previously served time in a secure facility. In this case, jurisdiction would be with the adult court system.
- Be charged with one of the "One stike and you're out offenses," which are: aggravated arson, aggravated assault, aggrabated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault, discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, attempted aggravated murder and attempted murder. In these cases, jurisdiction would originate with the juvenile court, but the burden of proving why it should stay in juvenile court would be on the defendant.
A teen could still be directly charged in adult court for murder, a first-degree felony, and aggravated murder, a capital offense.