TRANSFER OF ATTEMPTED HOMICIDE CASE FROM ADULT TO JUVENILE COURT SERVED THE PUBLIC INTEREST
The Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. L.P., No. 782 MDA 2015 (April 21, 2016), holding that the trial court properly considered the statutory factors and did not abuse its discretion when it transferred the case of a juvenile charged with attempted homicide from adult court to juvenile court.
Juvenile, L.P., was charged with seven counts of criminal attempt-criminal homicide, and one count each of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, aggravated assault, possession of firearm, firearms not to be carried without a license, possession of firearm by a minor, and recklessly endangering another person after having fired a 9mm handgun into a crowd at a dance.
In PA, when a juvenile has been charged with certain serious offenses, the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas – not the Juvenile Division – is vested with jurisdiction. These cases are frequently referred to a “direct file” cases. Criminal attempt to commit murder, where the juvenile was fifteen years or older at the commission of the alleged offense and a deadly weapon was used, is one of the offenses that requires jurisdiction to vest in the Criminal Division. However, when jurisdiction vests with the Criminal Division in a direct file case, the juvenile may seek a transfer to the Juvenile Division. This is frequently referred to as a “decertification hearing.”
Because of the nature of the charges in this case, L.P. was charged as an adult in the Criminal Division. On March 16, 2015, L.P. filed a petition for decertification. The trial court held a hearing on April 22, 2015.
At the decertification hearing, L.P. presented the testimony of Dr.Rosen, David Botero, and Probation Officer Brummett. Dr. Rosen testified at length on L.P.’s cognitive functioning, educational history, prior behavioral interventions, and level of criminal sophistication. In forming his recommendation, he specifically considered, among other things, L.P.’s past treatment, level of dangerousness, intellectual and personality characteristics, age, and maturity level. The testimony of David Botero detailed L.P.’s experience with a community mentoring program, and Probation Officer Brummett explained the nature and extent of L.P.’s prior delinquent history.
The Commonwealth presented the testimony of Detective Paul, which primarily discussed the impact of the offense on the community and victims, the nature of the offense, and the threat to the public.
The trial court concluded that L.P. was amenable to treatment, telling him that “because the juvenile system didn’t have an opportunity, and you didn’t have a chance to demonstrate whether you could be rehabilitated, young man, this is your one and only chance to do that. I find that it is actually in the interest of society long term to rehabilitate you and bring you back into the realm of a private citizen.”
The Commonwealth appealed the trail court’s decision to decertify L.P.’s case from the Criminal to the Juvenile Division.
Whether the decertification court erred in finding that L.P. established by a preponderance of the evidence that the transfer of his case from the Criminal Division to the Juvenile Division would serve the public interest?
The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it considered and weighed the statutory factors and granted L.P.’s petition for decertification.
In determining whether to transfer a case charging murder or any offense excluded from the definition of “delinquent act” in the Juvenile Act, the child shall be required to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the transfer will serve the public interest. To assess if a transfer will serve the public interest, the court considers the following statutory factors:
(A) the impact of the offense on the victim or victims;
(B) the impact of the offense on the community;
(C) the threat to the safety of the public or any individual posed by the child;
(D) the nature and circumstances of the offense allegedly committed by the child;
(E) the degree of the child’s culpability;
(F) the adequacy and duration of dispositional alternatives available under this chapter and in the adult criminal system; and
(G) whether the child is amenable to treatment, supervision or rehabilitation as a juvenile by considering the following factors:
(II) mental capacity;
(IV) the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the child;
(V) previous records, if any;
(VI) the nature and extent of any prior delinquent history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the child;
(VII) whether the child can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court jurisdiction;
(VIII) probation or institutional reports, if any;
(IX) any other relevant factors[.]
The Superior Court will presume that the trial court considered the entire record in making its determination, and it is not required to give a detailed explanation justifying its decision.
In L.P.’s case, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court heard evidence on each of the above factors before granting the petition to certify. Although the trial court recognized the “horrible” nature of L.P.’s alleged crime, it credited the opinion of Dr. Rosen and determined that L.P.’s actions were a “classic example of immaturity, impulsivity, stupidity, and being with the wrong people” and that the public interest would be served by decertifying L.P. for supervision under the juvenile system.
The Superior Court presumed that the trial court considered the whole record when assessing each statutory factor and, accordingly, it discerned no abuse of discretion.