Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

Courts in Massachusetts and nationwide are faced with a difficult task in prosecuting and sentencing juvenile offenders for serious crimes. Under certain circumstances, juveniles can be tried and sentenced as if they were adults, while judges also have the discretion to place the children in the custody of a youth services division, which may work to educate and rehabilitate the children before releasing them back into society as adults. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by state prosecutors, who challenged a judge’s imposition of a suspended commitment to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) for a child convicted of a firearm offense.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the child was arrested and charged with the possession of an unregistered firearm after police noticed the gun in his car after a traffic stop. After his arrest, the youth was committed to a DYS juvenile detention facility pending his trial. The juvenile entered into a plea agreement after 8 months in DYS custody. At sentencing, the judge found that the youth had done “very well” during the eight months he spent in DYS custody and that he had a supportive home environment, and that no further incarceration would be necessary. The judge sentenced him to a three-year term in DYS custody but suspended the incarceration pending the youth’s participation and completion of a probation program. As a result of his sentence, the youth would be permitted to return home and live with his family while he fulfilled the probation conditions.

The Commonwealth appealed the judge’s sentence to the state Court of Appeals, arguing that state law gave the judge no authority to issue such a lenient sentence. Specifically, the state argued that a commitment to DYS custody after sentencing could not be suspended under the conditions present in the case. The Massachusetts Supreme Court took jurisdiction of the case. The high court disagreed with the prosecutors, ruling that it is well within the discretion of a sentencing judge to issue a commitment to DYS but to hold that commitment pending the completion of probation. As a result of the high court ruling, the youth will be permitted to return to his family and remain free as long as he follows the probation conditions implemented by the judge.

Juveniles who commit or are accused of criminal conduct are often victims of a difficult and unsupported life, leading them into a criminal lifestyle. In Massachusetts, juvenile criminal law is not designed merely to punish criminal conduct but to address the underlying factors that led juveniles into a criminal lifestyle. Because of this, juveniles accused of crimes are not to be treated as criminals but as children in need of assistance and support. Along with this assumption comes legal protections that prevent juveniles from falling deeper into the criminal justice system.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in a juvenile criminal case that demonstrated the strength of the protections that juveniles are entitled to in the state when they are accused of committing crimes. In the recently decided case, the defendant was a juvenile when he was stopped by police for allegedly possessing a stolen vehicle. When police started questioning the juvenile, he gave them an inaccurate name and refused to say his date of birth. Ultimately he confessed to stealing the car. Once the arresting officer ascertained his actual name and date of birth, questioning ceased, and the minor was given a citation and released.

At a delinquency action for the car theft, the minor sought to suppress his confession and other statements to police because he was not given the opportunity guaranteed to juveniles to have an interested adult present during his questioning. The prosecution argued that the minor essentially waived that right by giving false information to the officer and refusing to tell him his date of birth, and the officer had no way of knowing he was a minor. The motion judge agreed with the prosecution, and the defendant was ultimately found to have committed the crime and adjudicated as delinquent.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun possession case discussing whether a defendant who is found guilty of a qualifying offense, and has previously been adjudicated delinquent of another qualifying juvenile offense, can be sentenced as a repeat offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In discussing the issue, the court conducted an analysis of the Eighth Amendment protection from “cruel and usual” punishment. However, the court ultimately concluded that qualifying juvenile adjudications may count as predicate offenses under the ACCA.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in a Massachusetts gun case. After a jury trial, but before the defendant was sentenced, the issue was raised as to whether the defendant should be sentenced under the ACCA as a repeat offender. Specifically, the issue presented to the court was whether the defendant’s juvenile adjudications, of which there were two, counted as “convictions” under the ACCA.

The Massachusetts ACCA creates a tiered system of punishment under which those who have previous qualifying convictions are sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences based on the number of previous qualifying convictions. The mandatory sentence for each subsequent conviction gets longer, ultimately reaching a sentence of 15 to 20 years for those with three or more qualifying convictions.

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In a recent Massachusetts assault case, the appellate court considered aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. DNA evidence connected the defendant to the case.

In 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for the defendant. He was indicted as a youthful offender. However, he filed a motion to dismiss the indictments for a failure to hold a probable cause hearing. A judge dismissed the case, and the Commonwealth appealed. The appeal was dismissed. However, a delinquency complaint was sought in Juvenile Court. The defendant was arraigned for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. When probable cause was determined, the case was transferred to the adult court system.

The defendant was indicted for aggravated rape and armed assault with intent to murder. His new attorney was appointed. At the trial, the jury couldn’t come to a decision about aggravated rape, and a mistrial was declared. However, the defendant was acquitted of the charge for armed assault with intent to murder. He was tried again and convicted.

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The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that no person shall be compelled in any criminal proceeding to be a witness against himself. The Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona understood that interrogation in some custodial circumstances is inherently coercive and ruled that statements made under certain circumstances are inadmissible unless a suspect is clearly informed of his Miranda rights and has chosen to waive those rights. Many are familiar with the Miranda Rule and its application over the years but how has the rule been applied to the juvenile client in the past and what has the United States Supreme Court done recently to clarify the Miranda Rule as it pertains to juvenile custodial interrogation?

The Supreme Court has already held that the Miranda protections do apply in juvenile cases. (See In Re Gault, 387 U.S.1 (1967)). Indeed, in Massachusetts, in the case of Commonwealth v. Juvenile, 389 Mass.128 (1983) the Supreme Judicial Court set the burden on the prosecution to prove that a statement made by a juvenile was both a knowing and intelligent waiver of the Miranda Rule. The court recognized that juveniles are quite different from adults in terms of both their full possession of their senses and their ability to recognize the consequences of making an admission to police.

In order for Miranda to apply in a juvenile case that client must be in custody. Also, the client must have been interrogated or experienced the functional equivalent of interrogation. In Massachusetts, if the juvenile is under 14 years of age, an interested adult must have been present during the interrogation. If over 14 years of age, the juvenile must have had a meaningful or genuine opportunity to consult with an interested adult. Finally, in all circumstances, there must have been a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of Miranda’s protections. Our courts look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if there was a proper waiver of Miranda in a given case.

On June 16, 2001 the United States Supreme Court, in the case of J. D. B., PETITIONER v. NORTH CAROLINA, answered the question of whether the age of a child subjected to police questioning is relevant to the custody analysis set out in Miranda v. Arizona. The court acknowledged that It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, the Supreme Court ruled that a child’s age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis. For a helpful explaination of the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case please view the following video:  

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