Oregon Supreme Court Scrutinizes Statutory Juvenile Transfer Statute

State v. J.C.N.-V., 359 Or 559 (2016) involves a 13-year-old child who was tried as an adult for murder committed with a 20-year-old primary perpetrator, and sentenced to a 30-year minimum sentence.  The Oregon Supreme Court held that the trial court had applied the incorrect legal standard for a transfer and remanded the case to the trial court for a new transfer determination.

The court interpreted the Oregon statutory threshold criterion for juvenile transfer, examining whether a child possesses “sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved.” The court rejected the en banc Oregon Court of Appeals decision that had held that the statutory standard was the equivalent of the basic test for criminal capacity, that is, whether the child understood what he or she had done and that it was wrong. Rather, the court held that:

[A] juvenile court must find that the youth possesses adult-like intellectual, social and emotional capabilities to have an adult-like understanding of the significance of his or her conduct, including its wrongfulness and its consequences for the youth, the victim, and others.

359 Or at 597. The court further elaborated that this would include considerations whether there was an adult-like capacity to: measure and foresee consequences, weigh risks and benefits, appreciate or comprehend with heightened understanding and judgment an act’s consequences and wrongfulness; with a recognition that a juvenile may for example have mature decision-making capacities but be morally immature in how the juvenile applies those abilities Id. at 598-599.

This important decision draws upon Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541(1966), asserting a right to an individualized, child-centric determination of jurisdiction.  PJDC joined in an amicus brief by Juvenile Law Center. PJDC congratulates Oregon defenders, all amici, and Marsha Levick and others at JLC on a great opinion!