Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Engelmayer (SDNY) Finds Juvenile Should Not be Prosecuted as an Adult

No Second Circuit decisions today.

But yesterday there was a decision out of the SDNY on the issue of whether a juvenile should be transferred for prosecution as an adult.

Judge Paul Engelmayer decided that a juvenile who was almost 18 years old at the time he was indicted for committing a number of violent offenses should not be prosecuted as an adult. The decision, United States v. C.F., Male Juvenile (15 Cr 445), can be found here. In it, Engelmayer gives a thorough break-down of the six factors that courts consider in the balancing test laid out under The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 5031-504.

Under JJDPA, the court must find that the transfer of a juvenile to adult status is in the “interest of justice.” This “interest of justice” standard is determined by balancing six factors : 1.) “the age and social background of the juvenile;” 2.) “the nature of the alleged offense;” 3.) “the extent and nature of the juvenile’s prior delinquency record;” 4.) the juvenile’s present intellectual development and psychological maturity;” 5.) “the nature of past treatment efforts and the juvenile’s response to such efforts;” and 6.) “the availability of programs designed to treat the juvenile’s behavioral problems.” There is no hard and fast rule for how to balance these factors, but the “broad guidepost” is for the court “to balance ‘the goal of rehabilitation’ against ‘the threat to society posed by juvenile crime.’”(citing United States v. Nelson, 90 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir. 1996)).

In the decision, Engelmayer outlines the balancing test step-by-step, finding whether each factor weighs in favor or against transfer to adult status. It’s clear from the decision that the defense provided some powerful witnesses at the transfer hearing – including expert psychologists, but also teachers and social workers who had known the juvenile for some time before his arrest. The judge’s personal observations of the juvenile is also reflected in the decision, which notes that the juvenile “presented to the Court, at the hearing, as a child in an adult’s body.”

The court found it a “close case,” given the serious nature of the juvenile’s charged crimes, which included conspiracy to commit racketeering, attempted murder in aid of racketeering and a § 924(c) charge. Ultimately, though, the court held that the government failed to meet its burden to show that the juvenile’s rehabilitation was not likely.

I’ve included a large block of the court’s decision below, showing that it felt that the juvenile’s past development and future prospects for growth weighed heavily in this balancing test, even where the charged crimes were quite serious:

“[]The assembled record supports that C.F. is a work in progress. Saddled with severe intellectual deficits and psychological issues, raised in a toxic home and housing-project environment in which his parents neglected him and modeled destructive habits, and personally threatened by gang violence and lacking protection, C.F. lacked the social maturity and practical coping skills to ward off the allure of his older brother’s gang. But in the past 10 months, since placed in an out-of-state juvenile facility following his arrest, C.F. has made significant strides[.] . . . While the Court cannot predict the future, the Court can – and does – find that C.F. has a reasonable prospect for rehabilitation if removed from his home environment and treated, over a sustained period, in a juvenile facility. The evidence does not show that this outcome is unlikely.”

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