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April 19, 2016
  United States v. Under Seal -- Fourth Amendment
Juvenile Cannot Be Tried as Adult Where No Constitutional Punishment for Conviction Would Exist

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Issue Presented: Whether a juvenile can be tried as an adult under statute that mandates punishment upon conviction that is not constitutional for juveniles.

Brief Summary: A juvenile cannot be tried as an adult if the statute that the government seeks to try the juvenile under only provides mandatory life imprisonment or death as possible punishments because both are unconstitutional when imposed on juveniles.

Extended Summary: The defendant (whose name was withheld because he was a juvenile when the crime was committed) was alleged to have been involved in a gang-related murder shortly before his eighteenth birthday. The government sought to have him tried as an adult under 18 U.S.C §1959 (a)(1) for murder in the aid of racketeering. The defense opposed the motion to try the defendant as an adult on the basis that the punishments outlined by the statute, mandatory life imprisonment or death, were deemed by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional when applied to juveniles. The District Court agreed and denied the transfer motion because the defendant could not be constitutionally sentenced if convicted. The government filed an interlocutory appeal based on the District Court's ruling.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court held that the minimum penalty proscribed by the statute was mandatory life imprisonment, thus the District Court did not have discretion to sentence the defendant to a term less than life. This would have resulted in an unconstitutional sentence.

The court also held that the penalty clause of the statute could not be severed from the portion that defined the criminal act to cure its constitutional defect because the primary purpose of a criminal statute is to outline a penalty for criminal conduct. Without the penalty clause, the statute would not provide a penalty. Furthermore, severing the penalty clause would not provide adequate notice to the public about possible punishments a person might face if convicted under the statute. Therefore, severing the penalty clause would be unfair.

To read the full text of this opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges Agee, Harris, and Chuang

Argument Date: 12/8/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 04/30/2016

Docket Number: Case Nos. 15-4265

Decided: Affirmed by published opinion

Case Alert Author: Kathleen DeNobile, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Julia K. Martinez, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Keva Jeannette McDonald, THE LAW OFFICE OF KEVA J. MCDONALD, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney, Stephen M. Campbell, Tobias D. Tobler, Assistant United States Attorneys, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Frank Salvato, SALVATO LAW, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Agee

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/19/2016 01:31 PM     4th Circuit  

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