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