First Court of Appeals Decision on Certification of Juvenile Offenders

On July 30, 2013, the First Court of Appeals in Houston reversed Cameron Moon’s 2010 murder conviction and 30 year sentence. The Appellate Court found that the juvenile court abused its discretion in waiving jurisdiction and certifying Moon for trial as an adult. Moon was 16 when he was arrested for his crime.

The juvenile court transferred Moon based on findings relating to Moon’s maturity, sophistication, and potential rehabilitation. However, upon review, the Appellate Court found insufficient evidence to support these findings. Despite Moon’s juvenile probation officer, forensic psychiatrist, therapist, and even his ex-girlfriend’s mother all testifying to his amenability to treatment and “likelihood of reasonable rehabilitation,” the juvenile court transferred Moon “due to the seriousness of the crime alone.”

The Appellate Court pointedly stated that “a finding based on the seriousness of the offense [or the background of the juvenile]…does not absolve the juvenile court of its duty to consider the [juvenile’s sophistication, maturity, and the likelihood of rehabilitation].” The Court notes that if the nature of the offense alone could justify waiver of jurisdiction, juveniles committing certain “serious” crimes would be automatically transferred to adult court, and the other factors “would be rendered superfluous.” The Court further admonishes the juvenile court’s finding as “manifestly unjust,” and refers to another case stating there is nothing in the statute “which suggests that a child may be deprived of the benefits of our juvenile court system merely, because the crime with which he is charged is a ‘serious’ crime.”

The Moon judgment is a significant win for juvenile justice advocates, because it criticizes and trumps previous cases stating that the trial court need only find the seriousness of the offense or background of the juvenile to determine whether certification and transfer is proper. There is now a clear directive to the juvenile courts to consider and prove all the statutory factors when determining child certifications.

Moon’s case remains pending in the juvenile court. You can read the appellate court opinion here.

Photo source: http://www.pgal.com/media/portfolio/NBaker_Courthouse_110908_3451.jpg

Esther Kim

About Esther Kim

Esther Kim is a third year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She graduate from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a focus in Chinese Language and Literature. As an undergraduate, she worked one summer at the Citizens' Committee for Children, New York, a child advocacy organization, where she developed an interest in children's rights, community after-school resources, and immigration. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, LLP in New York City. Esther is interested in adoptions and child neglect and abuse.

5 thoughts on “First Court of Appeals Decision on Certification of Juvenile Offenders

  1. mark
    September 4, 2013 at 2:05 AM

    Think about the juvenile… So if a 16 year old boy killed someone in your family you wouldn’t want them facing charges as an adult?.. my brother was running from this 16 year old. The 16 year old shot multiple times at my brothers back while he tried to flee…. What about How are family feels. We visit a tomb to see the person we lost. These parents of the juvenile can still see there murdering son!

    1. Shiloh Carter
      September 4, 2013 at 10:47 AM

      Mark, We are very sorry for your loss.

  2. Rosanna
    August 31, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    What a shame. I wonder if the appellate court considered the family of the MURDER victim before its reversing the juv court decision!

    1. Shiloh Carter
      September 4, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      Rosanna, The Appellate Court’s decision was based on the juvenile court’s failure to comply with the Texas statute for juvenile certification hearings. The Appellate Court is only allowed to consider whether the juvenile court abused its discretion by failing to fulfill the certification hearing requirements. The Appellate Court cannot consider non-legal issues to make their decision.

    2. Alex Hunt
      September 4, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      I totally understand where you and Mark are coming from. For me, it’s often important to look at things from a big picture perspective. Harris County courts, particularly in Cameroon Moon’s case, had a habit of rubberstamping certifications of juveniles to adult court without following the constitutionally and statutorily required procedures. So, while I understand (I really do) how easy it is to empathize with the victim’s family, if I was a child in trouble with the law, I would certainly want to be sure that procedures that were developed to protect my due process rights were actually enforced. And when they weren’t, that appellate courts hold them accountable and ensure that they follow the law.

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