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Washington Court Discusses Assault Charges Against Juveniles

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2021 | Assault

Generally, juvenile offenders are treated differently than adults, and in many instances, criminal proceedings involving minor offenders are handled by juvenile courts. Serious crimes are often handled by adult criminal courts, though, and typically a conviction in adult court will carry more significant penalties. Recently, a Washington court issued an opinion discussing whether a minor criminal defendant has the right to have his or her case heard in juvenile court, in a matter in which the defendant appealed his conviction for assault when he was a minor. If you are charged with assault, it is important to speak to a trusted Washington assault defense lawyer to determine your options.

History of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with first-degree assault when he was 16. As it was considered a serious and violent offense, the jurisdiction of the juvenile court was automatically declined, and the case was assigned to adult criminal court pursuant to Washington law. The defendant and the State subsequently reached a plea agreement, under which the charges were reduced to second-degree assault, which is a crime that is not subject to the automatic declination of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.

It is alleged that the defendant did not waive the right to juvenile jurisdiction, and the court did not hold a declination hearing. The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months in prison, followed by twelve months of community supervision. Twenty-three years later, the defendant filed a motion for relief from the judgment, arguing that because it was not entered in juvenile court, it was facially invalid. The court denied his motion.

Washington’s Juvenile Criminal Court

Under Washington law, a person must file a petition for post-conviction relief within one year of when a trial court’s judgment and sentence becomes final. The one-year limitation does not apply, however, if a judgment is invalid on its face. In the subject case, the court ultimately found that the defendant failed to meet this burden. It explained that the state and federal constitutions do not provide a right to adjudication in juvenile courts.

As such, an adult court’s failure to transfer a matter to a juvenile court or conduct a declination hearing warrants a remedy on subsequent review only if the error rose to the level of a fundamental mistake that automatically resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice. In the subject case, the court found that the defendant failed to meet this burden, as the record did not contain a statement that the defendant would not have pleaded guilty if the case was transferred to juvenile court or that the charges against him would have been reduced. Thus, his conviction was affirmed.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

People convicted of assault crimes often face significant penalties, and it is prudent for anyone charged with an assault offense to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are adept at helping defendants fight to protect their rights, and if you are charged with assault, they will work tirelessly on your behalf.  You can contact us through our online form or by calling 253-363-8662 to schedule a meeting.