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The Juvenile Delinquency Act continues to apply to the prosecution of a defendant who reaches the age of 21 during the criminal proceedings, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The court joins other circuits in finding that a defendant who reaches his 21st birthday is still subject to a court’s decision to try “juveniles” as adults, even though the act is silent on the question. The ruling came in two companion cases, United States v. Ramirez, 00-1664 and 00-1564, that involved accused members of a violent drug dealing group called the 165th Street Organization. The group has been the subject of a series of prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for interstate narcotics trafficking and a number of crimes of violence. The Juvenile Delinquency Act, (JDA) 18 U.S.C. � 5031, considers juvenile delinquency the violation of a federal law committed by a person before his or her 18th birthday. The act contains both mandatory and discretionary transfer provisions that district court judges must consider in making the decision to “transfer” a juvenile to adult status. A juvenile information filed in 2000 against John Doe No. 2 charged him with several acts of delinquency committed between 1994 and 1998, including armed robbery, kidnapping, murder and drug offenses. The government moved almost immediately to try John Doe No. 2 as an adult under � 5032 of the act. Under that section, district court judges have the discretion to order an adult trial where the defendant qualifies as a juvenile, the charges include violent felonies, and there is a “substantial federal interest” in the case. After two hearings in August 2000, Southern District of New York Judge Robert L. Carter found that John Doe No. 2 was unlikely to be rehabilitated, and the “interests of justice” warranted trying him as an adult. The second juvenile information, charging similar crimes committed during the same time period, was filed against Manuel Gonzalez. Carter also granted the government’s motion for discretionary transfer under the act. Gonzalez later pleaded guilty to three crimes, including committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a far cry from the five years of “official detention” he would have received had he been tried as a juvenile. On the appeal John Doe No. 2, who is now 23, and Gonzalez, 24, challenged Judge Carter’s discretionary decision to classify them as adults. Writing for the 2nd Circuit, Chief Judge John M. Walker Jr. said, “By its terms, the JDA does not apply to a person who commits a federal offense on or after the age of eighteen or to a person indicted after the age of twenty-one. “Notwithstanding the commission of a crime before the age of eighteen and the filing of a juvenile information before the age of twenty-one, the JDA authorizes the district court to transfer a juvenile to adult status under certain circumstances.” Walker said the juvenile proceeding and adult transfer provisions thus apply in cases where a defendant commits a crime before his or her 18th birthday and is under 21 at the time the juvenile information charging the crime is filed. “The JDA, however, does not expressly state whether it continues to apply where, as here, a defendant commits a crime before age eighteen and is charged before his or her twenty-first birthday but turns twenty-one during the pendency of the criminal proceedings,” he said. Walker said that, because the JDA applies to “juveniles” charged with committing acts of “juvenile delinquency,” the 2nd Circuit panel in the case of John Doe No. 2 requested additional briefings on the question. After reviewing those briefs, he said, the panel agreed with the government that the “JDA continues to apply to the prosecution of a defendant who reaches the age of 21 during the proceedings.” Both the 4th Circuit and the 9th Circuit have reached the same conclusion, he said. “Because of the uncertainty and possible waste of resources that would result if the JDA ceased to apply when a defendant attained the age of twenty-one, we agree with the Fourth and Ninth Circuits and hold that the district court properly exercised its jurisdiction under the JDA in this case,” he said. Walker went on to find that Judge Carter did not abuse his discretion under the act in ordering either transfer, even though there is a “presumption in favor of juvenile adjudication,” because he carefully considered the factors weighing for and against transfer, including the seriousness of the crimes, before making his decision. Larry H. Krantz of Krantz & Berman represented John Doe No. 2. David W. Windley represented Gonzalez. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua G. Berman, Meir Feder, Daniel M. Gitner and Gary Stein represented the government.

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