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A change of mind can be a good thing. But for appellate court justices whose turnabout puts them at odds with most of their colleagues around the state, it also could lead to a review by the California Supreme Court. Justices Richard McAdams and Conrad Rushing of San Jose’s Sixth District Court of Appeal put themselves in that position on Friday by ruling that juvenile adjudications cannot be used to enhance adult sentences under the state’s Three Strikes law. The decision � in which Justice Nathan Mihara dissented � negates a muddled and controversial January ruling by the same panel that had left both defense lawyers and prosecutors confused and annoyed. Friday’s new opinion also conflicts with six other appeal court rulings in California � including two by other justices of the Sixth District � and all but guarantees Supreme Court review. In fact, Eric Share, the San Francisco-based deputy attorney general handling the case, cited those conflicts on Friday in saying his office will probably petition the high court. “We disagree with the majority’s judgment and its reasoning,” he said. In 2005, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham sentenced Vince Nguyen to 32 months in prison on weapons possession charges. That was double the mitigated term because the judge found that an earlier juvenile adjudication for assault with a deadly weapon could be used as a conviction for Three Strikes purposes. Friday’s decision, however, reversed the trial court, saying a juvenile adjudication cannot be considered a prior conviction because the minor offenders � under U.S. and California Supreme Court decisions � don’t have the right to a jury trial. “Therefore,” Justice McAdams wrote, “a juvenile adjudication cannot be used, pursuant to the Three Strikes law, to impose on an adult a sentence in excess of the maximum sentence.” That decision clashes with the Sixth District’s 2003 rulings in People v. Superior Court (Andrades), 113 Cal.App.4th 817, and People v. Lee, 111 Cal.App.4th 1310 � as well as with two rulings each from the Second and Fifth districts. Mihara’s dissent accused the majority of failing to identify any constitutional right that would be violated by the use of a juvenile adjudication as a prior conviction. “[Nguyen] was clearly afforded each and every one of the specific rights guaranteed to him under the United States Constitution at the juvenile proceedings that led to the juvenile adjudication,” he wrote. “He had no federal constitutional right to jury trial, so the failure to accord him such a right did not violate the United States Constitution.” In his Jan. 22 ruling, McAdams � joined by Rushing and Mihara � had ruled that prior juvenile adjudications, which are essentially convictions by a judge, could be used as strikes if the defendant had admitted to the earlier crime. That baffled both defense lawyers and prosecutors, who felt it left the issue in a strange sort of limbo. Both the January ruling and Friday’s decision were largely based on the Sixth District’s interpretation of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466. In that 2000 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that facts used to enhance a sentence beyond the statutory maximum must be pleaded and proven to a jury. Both Sixth District rulings also relied on the high court’s 2004 decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296. There, the court said criminal defendants’ right to fair trials are violated when sentences are increased beyond the statutory maximum based on factors decided only by a judge. In Friday’s ruling, McAdams said his earlier opinion “did not sufficiently take into account” the impact of Blakely. “We thus conclude,” he wrote, “that the use of a juvenile adjudication to enhance the defendant’s sentence beyond the ordinary, statutorily mandated maximum sentence, pursuant to the Three Strikes law, violates the defendant’s Apprendi rights.” That holds both when the juvenile is adjudicated after a contested hearing or after admitting to the crime. Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Seth Flagsberg, who was handling the case, couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon for comment. But Barry Melton, president of the California Public Defenders Association, called the decision “wonderful.” He said it had “never seemed quite fair” that adult defendants could be sentenced to prison based on juvenile crimes that never went before a jury. The ruling is People v. Nguyen, 07 C.D.O.S. 7752.

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