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U.S. v. TLW

May 8, 1996

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TLW, A MALE JUVENILE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

Federal juvenile delinquency.

Government's motion to transfer juvenile to adult status.

I. BACKGROUND

Thereafter, on December 6, 1995, the Government filed a motion to transfer TLW to adult status and a motion to have TLW obtain a psychiatric evaluation. On the same day, TLW filed a motion to substitute counsel. On December 12, 1995, the Court conducted a hearing and new counsel was appointed.

On January 12, 1996, TLW filed a motion stating that he wanted a full inpatient psychological evaluation. Following a hearing and proper consent, the Court ordered TLW to be transported to the Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center in Dickinson, North Dakota, and that a complete psychological evaluation be performed. On April 22, 1996, the Court received the report of the evaluation, and in due course the parties filed respective memoranda for and against the transfer motion. On April 29, 1996, the Court conducted a hearing on the motion in which the Government presented evidence and the Court heard arguments.

II. LAW AND PROCEDURE

Because Federal juvenile proceedings are rare, there is little binding authority interpreting the statute governing transfer motions, 18 U.S.C. § 5032. But see United States v. J.J.K., 76 F.3d 870 (7th Cir. 1996) (discussing issues not relevant to this case). Thus, the Court must address the issues presented by § 5032 without the aid of Seventh Circuit guidance.

In pertinent part, § 5032 states:

  Evidence of the following factors shall be
  considered, and findings with regard to each
  factor shall be made in the record, in assessing
  whether a transfer would be in the interest of
  justice: the age and social background of the
  juvenile; the nature of the alleged offense; the
  extent and nature of the juvenile's prior
  delinquency record; the juvenile's present
  intellectual development and psychological
  maturity; the nature of past treatment efforts and
  the juvenile's response to such efforts; the
  availability of programs designed to treat the
  juvenile's behavioral problems. In considering the
  nature of the offense, as required by this
  paragraph, the court shall consider the extent to
  which the juvenile played a leadership role in an
  organization, or otherwise influenced other
  persons to take part in criminal activities,
  involving the use or distribution of controlled
  substances or firearms. Such a factor, if found to
  exist, shall weigh in favor of a transfer to adult
  status, but the absence of this factor shall not
  preclude such a transfer.

Id.

Unfortunately, § 5032 raises more questions than it provides answers. For example, what exactly did Congress mean by "in the interest of justice"? — What is the burden of proof? — Is there a presumption in favor of maintaining juvenile status? — Does one or more of the six factors carry more weight? — Does "prior delinquency record" include arrests or only convictions? — Should the alleged offense be taken as true or does the Government need to prove the charged offense? — How far does the requirement to examine the juvenile's leadership role extend the definition of "alleged offense"? — Can evidence of a conspiracy be considered even though conspiracy is not a transferable offense?

Compounding the problem is the fact that the legislative history to § 5032 is sparse. See United States v. Brian N., 900 F.2d 218, 221 (10th Cir. 1990) (noting that the legislative history to — 5032 "is scant and capable of differing interpretations."). In short, although § 5032 is not unconstitutionally vague, it is far from precise. Accordingly, the Court must sail on uncharted waters.

A. Standard

Most other circuits that have addressed the issue, however, generally decline to prescribe an exact definition or test. See e.g., United States v. Nelson, 68 F.3d 583, 587 (2nd Cir. 1995). Regardless of how the standard is described, however, it is clear that whether a transfer is warranted is a case-by-case determination that strikes a balance between the need to provide a rehabilitative environment for young offenders on one hand, and the need to protect society and the need to provide adequate sanctions for anti-social acts on the other hand. United States v. Alexander, 695 F.2d 398, 401 (9th Cir. 1982) (citing United States v. E.K., 471 F. Supp. 924, 932 (D.Or. 1979)).

B. Presumptions

Although § 5032 does not expressly mandate a presumption, at least two circuits maintain that a presumption in favor of juvenile treatment exists. See United States v. A.R., 38 F.3d 699, 706 (3rd Cir. 1994) ("[t]he statute clearly intends a presumption of juvenile treatment."); ...


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