United States v. Doe.
No. 23-9900. 1/20/2023. D.Okla. Judge Tymkovich. Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act—First Degree Murder—Transfer to Adult Court—Transfer Factors—Punishment.
January 16, 2023
Doe initiated the murder of her parents by her boyfriend and another friend when she was 17 years old. She was charged with two counts of murder under § 1111 of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (the Act). The government filed a motion to transfer proceedings from juvenile court to adult court. The magistrate judge considered the motion and recommended that the case be transferred to adult court. The district court judge reviewed the case de novo, adopted the recommendation, and granted the government’s motion to transfer Doe’s case.
Doe appealed the transfer order. As an initial matter, the Tenth Circuit determined that criminal jurisdiction is appropriate in federal court because Doe is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation and the offenses occurred on the Choctaw Nation reservation. On the merits, Doe argued that it is unconstitutional to charge her with first-degree murder as an adult because the punishments for first-degree murder under § 1111 of the Act violate the Eighth Amendment when applied to a juvenile, so no constitutional punishments are available if she is convicted. Under the Act, juveniles may be prosecuted as adults if they are at least 15½ years old, they allegedly committed a felony crime of violence, and the court determines adult prosecution would be “in the interest of justice.” The penalties for first-degree murder—death or life imprisonment without parole—are unconstitutional when applied to juveniles. However, the constitutionality issue is not ripe because the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment applies only after there has been a guilt determination or a plea, which has not yet occurred in this case. The need to impose an unconstitutional sentence may not arise if, for example, Doe is acquitted, is convicted of a lesser crime, pleads to a lesser-included offense, or is convicted of first-degree murder but receives a lower sentence. And Doe may effectively raise her argument again later in the proceedings.
Doe also argued that the district court (1) applied the incorrect test for transferring a juvenile to adult court, because it used an inapplicable balancing test when considering transfer and thus reversibly erred; and (2) abused its discretion by finding the transfer factors weighed in favor of prosecuting her as an adult. Juvenile adjudication is presumed appropriate unless the government establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that a transfer to adult status is warranted in the interests of justice. The Act provides six statutory factors for determining whether transfer to adult status is in the interest of justice. A district court balances the factors as it deems appropriate and must consider and make findings with respect to each factor. Here, the district court correctly framed the legal test for transferring a juvenile to adult court. Second, the district court independently addressed each of the six transfer factors and adopted the magistrate judge’s extensive findings regarding those factors to ultimately conclude that Doe’s risk to society outweighed the potential benefits of a juvenile adjudication. Given that Doe was almost 18 years old at the time of the alleged offense, the heinousness of the crime, the callousness of her participation, and her leadership role, the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the government’s motion to transfer.
The order was affirmed.