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An appellate ruling that fell below the radar amid last week’s sentencing upheaval has both juvenile defense attorneys and prosecutors uncomfortably preparing for a fight � and maybe for a lot more trials. The Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled Jan. 22 that contested juvenile adjudications do not count as prior convictions because juveniles do not have a right to a jury trial. The part that has both prosecutors and defense attorneys scratching their heads with one hand � while crafting battle plans in the other � is that if the defendant admitted to the juvenile crime, it can later be used as a strike. That could cause a huge jump in the number of juvenile trials � or spur prosecutors to take more juvenile cases to adult court, where they can be heard by a jury. “It’s a totally paradoxical case,” said Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Richard Foxall, who works in the juvenile division. “It leads to the bizarre result that our clients will be rewarded for going to trial and being convicted of multiple strikes.” The published Jan. 22 ruling, authored by Justice Richard McAdams, cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, (2000) 530 U.S. 466, which held that facts used to enhance a sentence beyond the statutory maximum must be pleaded and proven to a jury. Since jury trials are not conducted in juvenile court, the Sixth District panel said that using a juvenile adjudication to enhance a sentence violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. But the panel also said that if the defendant had pleaded to “conduct that supports the court’s finding of recidivism, that admission is sufficiently reliable.” Foxall is one of many attorneys � both defenders and prosecutors � who doubt the California Supreme Court will let the ruling stand. The opinion contradicts published California appellate cases that have considered the issue of whether juvenile adjudications should count as strikes, including two opinions from other panels of the Sixth District, according to Supervising Deputy Attorney General Eric Share, referring to People v. Superior Court ( Andrades), 113 Cal.App.4th 817 (2003), and People v. Lee, 111 Cal.App.4th 1310 (2003). Though Share said the AG’s office has not made an official decision to fight the ruling yet, many say it’s just a matter of when. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Seth Flagsberg, who argued the case, said he’ll ask the Supreme Court to go further and prevent all juvenile adjudications from counting as strikes.
‘It’s a totally paradoxical case. It leads to the bizarre result that our clients will be rewarded for going to trial and being convicted of multiple strikes.’

RICHARD FOXALL Alameda County deputy PD


His client, Vince Vinthuong Nguyen, had admitted assault with a deadly weapon in juvenile court when he was 16 years old. In 2004, prosecutors filed four felony and two misdemeanor counts against 21-year-old Nguyen, including possession of a firearm by a felon. He entered into a plea agreement. But because he had admitted to the assault allegation in juvenile court, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison, which is double the mitigated term. With the real possibility of a reversal hovering, defense attorneys for minors facing multiple counts and a one-strike plea offer find themselves in an ethical predicament. Under Nguyen, a juvenile merely has to contest charges to avoid strikes. But if the ruling gets reversed, a guilty verdict at trial (or, more precisely, being adjudicated a ward of the court) could mean multiple strikes. “If there’s a single strike count, you go to trial � that’s for sure,” said California Public Defenders Association President Barry Melton. It’s a tougher call with juveniles facing two possible strikes � a guilty verdict, coupled with a reversal of Nguyen, would mean the defendant would enter adulthood in what Melton called a “most vulnerable position”: with two strikes on that person’s record. For now, Andrea Flint, the supervising attorney in the juvenile division of the Santa Clara County public defender’s office, says she’s advising her public defenders to push for trial. Of course, she says, the decision will ultimately be up to the client. Santa Clara public defenders are also verbally requesting jury trials for their juvenile clients, following the ruling’s emphasis on the importance of a jury trial. Flint says she is drafting a motion for the defense attorneys to use in all juvenile cases. Although Melton sees jury trial requests as “an imperative” at this point, those requests are usually denied. The Nguyen decision explicitly states, “We do not hold that juveniles are entitled to jury trials.” As for the Santa Clara district attorney’s office, Deputy DA David Soares says prosecutors aren’t interested in making policy changes, although he added it “would be unfortunate if we got pushed in the direction of having to try more juveniles in adult court.” “We think things were working quite well as they were,” said Soares, team leader of the juvenile delinquency unit. Coincidentally, the Nguyen decision came down the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cunningham v. California, which struck down the state’s determinate sentencing law, citing Blakely, Apprendi and other previous cases that form the basis of the Nguyen opinion. Attorneys were divided on whether the more recent Supreme Court decision would impact the juvenile adjudication debate.

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