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.

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First Court of Appeals Hears Case Challenging Transfer of Juvenile to Adult Court

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Children in Texas can be tried in adult criminal court under a waiver statute that permits the transfer of a juvenile to adult court after a hearing is conducted by a juvenile judge.  Tex. Fam. Code § 54.02.  On October 31, 2012 the First Court of Appeals in Houston heard a case challenging the transfer of a child, C.M.  The decision of the Court is pending.

When C.M. was only 16 years old, he was alleged to have committed a murder.  Normally the juvenile court hears cases for children under 17 years old.  However, the prosecutor in this case asked the judge to transfer the case to adult criminal court.  The hearing to determine if transfer is appropriate requires several factors about the child to be considered.  The judge in C.M.’s case failedo follow the statute’s requirements for a transfer hearing, specifically the diagnostic study requirement.  The judge ordered, but did not receive or examine a diagnostic study of C.M.  Despite this, the judge still transferred C.M. to adult criminal court.  C.M. was later found guilty in adult court.  Today, C.M. is 20 years old and incarcerated.

The First Court of Appeals has a heavy burden in making this important decision.  First, the justices have to decide if the original transfer hearing was properly conducted.  The Center for Children, Law & Policy feels it is impossible for the transfer hearing to be found proper considering that the Texas waiver law requirements were not met.  Next, the justices must determine what would be the appropriate remedy for this defect.

The Center for Children, Law & Policy firmly believes vacating C.M.’s conviction, as his attorneys are requesting, is the only appropriate outcome. The Court’s decision affectsmany other Texan children facing transfer to adult criminal court. For example, Harris County transfers an average of 78 children a year to adult criminal court.  The Center for Children, Law & Policy believes all children should have their cases heard in juvenile court.  We eagerly await the Court’s ruling.

C.M. is represented by:
Jack G. Carnegie of Strasburger & Price, LLP, John L. Hagan of Jackson, Gilmour & Dobbs, Christene Wood of Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons, and David Adler.

The Center for Children, Law & Policy has submitted to the First Court of Appeals a supplemental amicus brief in support of C.M.  We offered this additional information to help guide future policy for similarly situated juveniles facing transfer to adult court, especially here in Harris County, which has extraordinarily high rates of transfer to adult court.