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State v. Fussell

Supreme Court of Louisiana

December 11, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
HUNTER FUSSELL

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF ST. TAMMANY

          PER CURIAM [*]

         Children's Code article 305(A), pertaining to divestiture of juvenile court jurisdiction and original criminal court jurisdiction over children, provides:

A. (1) When a child is fifteen years of age or older at the time of the commission of first degree murder, second degree murder, aggravated or first degree rape, or aggravated kidnapping, he is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court until either:
(a) An indictment charging one of these offenses is returned.
(b) The juvenile court holds a continued custody hearing pursuant to Articles 819 and 820 and finds probable cause that he committed one of these offenses, whichever occurs first. During this hearing, when the child is charged with aggravated or first degree rape, the court shall inform him that if convicted he shall register as a sex offender for life, pursuant to Chapter 3-B of Title 15 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950.
(2) Thereafter, the child is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the appropriate court exercising criminal jurisdiction for all subsequent procedures, including the review of bail applications, and the court exercising criminal jurisdiction may order that the child be transferred to the appropriate adult facility for detention prior to his trial as an adult.

         Defendant Hunter Fussell was indicted for a first degree rape of a victim under the age of thirteen, La.R.S. 14:42(A)(4), that he was alleged to have committed on or shortly after his fifteenth birthday. At that point, pursuant to Article 305(A), defendant became subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court exercising its criminal jurisdiction.

         Defendant filed motions contending that the automatic transfer provision of Article 305(A) violates several constitutional provisions, both state and federal, as well as evolving United States Supreme Court jurisprudence recognizing the special characteristics of juveniles that can affect their capabilities and culpability. In response, the district court ultimately ruled that this automatic transfer provision violates due process and that a transfer hearing, comparable to the one provided in Children's Code art. 862, [1] is constitutionally required before a juvenile can be transferred to a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction. In reaching those conclusions, the district court relied on United States Supreme Court jurisprudence holding that juveniles are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.[2] The district court also relied heavily on Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 86 S.Ct. 1045, 16 L.Ed.2d 84 (1966), for the propositions that transfer from juvenile court imposes a significant deprivation of liberty and therefore warrants protection under the due process clause, and that a transfer from juvenile court should not occur unless the due process protections provided to juveniles are satisfied. A probable cause determination based solely on the nature of the offense alleged and evidence defendant committed the offense is inadequate to satisfy due process, the district court found, without a judicial determination that the juvenile will not benefit from the special protections and opportunities for rehabilitation offered by the juvenile court. The district court also found that a juvenile who is subject to the automatic transfer provision is denied the equal protection of law. Thus, the district court quashed the transfer of defendant from the juvenile to district court.

         Because the district court declared the automatic transfer provision of Article 305(A) to be unconstitutional, that declaration is appealable to this court pursuant to La. Const. Art. V, § 5(D). Before determining the correctness of the trial court's declaration, this court must first decide whether the issue of constitutionality was properly raised below. "[A] constitutional challenge may not be considered by an appellate court unless it was properly pleaded and raised in the trial court below." State v. Hatton, 07-2377, p. 13 (La. 7/1/08), 985 So.2d 709, 718. In Hatton, the court described the proper procedure for challenging the constitutionality of a statute, expressing the challenger's burden as a three-step analysis. "First, a party must raise the unconstitutionality in the trial court; second, the unconstitutionality of a statute must be specially pleaded; and third, the grounds outlining the basis of unconstitutionality must be particularized." Id., 07-2377, p. 14, 985 So.2d at 719.

         In the present case, a review of the record shows that defendant properly raised, pleaded, and particularized his challenge under the Due Process Clause, and its state constitution counterpart, and the district court's declaration of unconstitutionality on that ground is properly before this court on appeal. Defendant's equal protection challenge, however, was not specially pleaded.[3]Nonetheless, we will briefly address equal protection for the sake of completeness and expediency.

         This court held that when a statute classifies persons on the basis of any of the six enumerated grounds in La. Const. Art. I § 3, including age, the statute is unconstitutional unless the proponents are able to prove that the legislative classification "substantially furthers an appropriate state purpose." Manuel v. State, 95-2189, p. 4 (La. 3/8/96), 692 So.2d 320, 323, quoting Sibley v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University, 477 So.2d 1094, 1108 (La. 1985). Defendant here contends that the automatic transfer provision draws a suspect age-based distinction between juveniles that not only fails to further an appropriate state purpose but defeats one-i.e., the rehabilitative purpose of having a separate juvenile court system-because the transfer is automatic without regard to whether the juvenile could benefit from the rehabilitative opportunities afforded by a juvenile court. However, in scrutinizing La.R.S. 13:1570(A)(5), [4] which was a predecessor to Article 305(A), this court found that provision furthered the state's interest in protecting the public from serious, violent felonies. State v. Perque, 439 So.2d 1060, 1064 (La. 1983); see also State v. Leach, 425 So.2d 1232, 1236-37 (La. 1983) ("In the instant case the classifications embodied are not arbitrary and bear a rational relationship to a legitimate state interest, the protection of its citizens by exposing older minors who are accused of committing serious and violent felonies to the usual procedures and sanctions of the state's criminal law system."). Defendant fails to persuade the court erred there (even if this claim was properly before the court now). The automatic transfer provision is the product of the balancing of policy considerations involving not only those relating to the special treatment of juveniles but also public safety. It is the prerogative of the legislature to engage in this balancing calculus.

         The Perque decision also informs our analysis of due process. In Perque, this court discussed Kent v. United States, which figures prominently in defendant's arguments and the district court's reasons here. The juvenile court in Kent opted to waive its jurisdiction over a 16-year-old child without holding a hearing, making any findings, or providing any reason for the waiver. The United States Supreme Court found the waiver invalid because it violated the procedures established by statute in that jurisdiction. Kent, 383 U.S. at 557, 86 S.Ct. at 1055. The Supreme Court's statutory interpretation was informed by "constitutional principles relating to due process and assistance of counsel." Id. The Supreme Court noted that the juvenile's right to assistance of counsel in conjunction with the waiver would be "meaningless-an illusion, a mockery-unless counsel is given the opportunity to function" at a waiver hearing. Kent, 383 U.S. at 561, 86 S.Ct. at 1057. In addition, the Supreme Court found the waiver hearing "must measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment." Kent, 383 U.S. at 562, 86 S.Ct. at 1057; see also Application of Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 12-13, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 1436, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967). In Perque, we distinguished the statutory framework in Kent from that under the predecessor to Article 305(A):

The situation in the case at bar, however, is easily distinguishable from that in Kent. In this case, there are no statutory rights of which defendants are being deprived. Once a sixteen-year-old is charged with armed robbery, the question is not one of "transfer" of jurisdiction. Rather, the juvenile court is automatically divested of jurisdiction. This divestiture is not a matter of discretion on the part of the juvenile court or the district attorney, but is controlled by the statute defining the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts, La.R.S. 13:1570 A(5).
Since the defendants are not being deprived of "important statutory rights," the question is not one of due process, but of whether La.R.S. 13:1570 A(5) is a valid exercise of the State's police powers. We have already held that classifications by age and seriousness of the offense are not arbitrary or capricious, and that the classifications bear a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest of protecting the public from serious, violent felonies. State v. Leach, supra. Further, since the legislative intent is clearly that those fifteen and sixteen year olds charged with the enumerated offenses be treated in all respects as adults, we see no reason to depart from the rule that the district attorney has "entire charge and control of every criminal prosecution instituted and pending in his district, and determines whom, when and how he shall prosecute."

Perque, 439 So.2d at 1064 (citations omitted).

         Defendant here contends our analysis in Perque is rendered obsolete by more recent United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, such as Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, which recognizes that juveniles are developmentally different from adults and therefore must be treated differently from adults. Those decisions, however, are based on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments and address the importance of considering the unique characteristics of juveniles in sentencing.[5] None have declared that a juvenile has a liberty interest in juvenile court adjudication that requires certain procedural due process before the juvenile can be tried as an adult. While we recognize the importance and necessity that juveniles receive individualized sentencing determinations, we do not agree with the district court that the same principles also apply pretrial to require a waiver hearing focused on a juvenile's potential for rehabilitation, [6] which overrides the legislature's decision as to how to structure the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts.

         Unlike in Kent, the Louisiana legislature has not provided certain juvenile offenders with a statutorily protected liberty interest in juvenile court adjudication but instead has specifically denied such when the juvenile is accused of a violent and serious felony. Therefore, defendant, as a 15-year-old charged with first degree rape, does not have the same statutorily protected liberty interest in juvenile court adjudication as the juvenile in Kent, which would entitle him to procedural due process through a transfer hearing before he could be subjected to adult court jurisdiction. The juvenile court here is not vested with the discretion to retain or waive jurisdiction. Instead, the Louisiana legislature has made the divesture of jurisdiction mandatory, and defendant is now "subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the appropriate court exercising criminal jurisdiction for all subsequent procedures[.]" La.Ch.C. art. 305(A)(2).

         Finally, we note that the state constitution specifically authorizes the legislature to create a provision like Article 305(A):

The determination of guilt or innocence, the detention, and the custody of a person who is alleged to have committed a crime prior to his seventeenth birthday shall be pursuant to special juvenile procedures which shall be provided by law. However, the legislature may (1) by a two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house provide that special juvenile procedures shall not apply to juveniles arrested for having committed first or second degree murder, manslaughter, aggravated rape, armed robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, attempted first degree murder, attempted second degree murder, forcible rape, simple rape, second degree kidnapping, a second or subsequent aggravated battery, a second or subsequent aggravated burglary, a second or subsequent offense of burglary of an inhabited dwelling, or a second or subsequent felony-grade violation of Part X or X-B of Chapter 4 of Title 40 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, involving the manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances, and (2) by two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house lower the maximum ages of persons to whom juvenile procedures shall apply, and (3) by two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house establish a procedure by which the court of original jurisdiction may waive special juvenile procedures in order that adult procedures shall apply in individual cases. The legislature, by a majority of the elected members of each house, shall make special provisions for detention and custody of juveniles who are subject to the jurisdiction of the district court pending determination of guilt or innocence.

La. Const. Art. V § 19. Article 305 was originally enacted as part of Acts 1991, No. 235, which originated as HB 939. By passing Article 305, the legislature "provide[d] that special juvenile procedures shall not apply to" persons who have been arrested and subsequently indicted for aggravated (now first degree) rape, among other enumerated crimes. Given that the state constitution contains an explicit grant of authority, it is difficult to conclude the legislature violated the state constitution when it exercised that authority.

         Statutes are presumed constitutional, and any doubt is to be resolved in the statute's favor. State v. Fleury, 01-0871, p. 5 (La. 10/16/01), 799 So.2d 468, 472; State v. Brenner, 486 So.2d 101, 103 (La. 1986); Theriot v. Terrebonne Parish Police Jury, 436 So.2d 515, 520 (La. 1983). This court has consistently held that such presumptively constitutional legislative enactments should be upheld when possible. State v. Caruso, 98-1415, p. 1 (La. 3/2/99), 733 So.2d 1169, 1170. The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears a heavy burden in proving that statute unconstitutional. State v. Brooks, 541 So.2d 801, 811 (La. 1989). The constitutionality of the predecessor to Article 305 has been repeatedly upheld by this Court. See State v. Foley, 456 So.2d 979, 981 (La. 1984); State v. Perique, supra; State v. Leach, supra. Likewise, for the reasons above, we find defendant here failed to carry that burden of showing that Article 305(A) is unconstitutional.

         Accordingly, we vacate the district court's ruling, which declared Children's Code art. 305(A) unconstitutional and quashed defendant's transfer to the district court, and we remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the views expressed here.

         VACATED AND REMANDED

          JOHNSON, Chief Justice, dissents and assigns reasons.

         Because I agree with the district court that Louisiana Children's Code article 305(A) is unconstitutional, I must respectfully dissent.

La. Ch. C. art. 305(A) provides, in relevant part (emphasis added):
A. (1) When a child is fifteen years of age or older at the time of the commission of first degree murder, second degree murder, aggravated or first degree rape, or aggravated kidnapping, he is subject to the ...

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