the growing crime wave, however, it proposed a short-cut method for removing those young people arrested for certain serious crimes.
Making the assumption that one who commits one of the enumerated serious offenses has attained that degree of sophistication that would prevent effective juvenile correctional treatment, the House of Representatives (and eventually the entire Congress) then made an assumption contrary to the basic presumption of innocence in our system of jurisprudence.
They presumed that anyone arrested for a crime has committed that crime and, because of the seriousness of the crime charged, is therefore a matured criminal. The dissenters from the House District Committee's report, Congressmen Diggs, Fraser and Adams, had clearly enunciated this infirmity: "The charge, as determined by the prosecutor alone, will determine his treatment as an adult, a clear repudiation of the presumption of innocence principle."
The legislative history of the Act demonstrates that Congress wanted to create a streamlined parens patriae system for juveniles in the District of Columbia with a means for eliminating those who were beyond its help. The Senate wanted at least the slight additional standard of prior juvenile disposition. The House of Representatives wanted only the standard that a juvenile be charged with a certain serious offense. Both sides compromised. The Senate was willing to eliminate the requirement of prior juvenile disposition and the House was willing to reduce the number of enumerated serious offenses,
and the Congress was willing to assume that, if the police charged a youth with one of those enumerated offenses, he must have committed that offense and is therefore so sophisticated that he should be withdrawn from the system. This violation of the basic presumption of innocence is contrary to due process.
Further, even if this were not so, the Congress did not set any standard in the statute. Instead of doing what it intended, ridding the system of mature, sophisticated sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds by lowering the jurisdictional age limits for certain offenses, Congress created a statute which provides a system of parens patriae treatment for all under age eighteen except those whom the United States Attorney might arbitrarily exclude. The protections of the Family Division can automatically be denied certain sixteen- and seventeen-year-old children without any opportunity for a hearing or even the slightest inquiry into that with which the Congress was concerned, namely, could the child be helped by the Family Division. Kent called this waiver decision "critically important" and required a hearing that would measure up to fair treatment and due process; and regardless of whether one terms it a "transfer," an exercise of prosecutorial discretion under the operation of the statute, or a "waiver," the consequences are the same, i.e., the child is excluded from the protection of the system.
As indicated by the legislative history, Congress intended that there be retained a juvenile system wherein the District of Columbia, acting as parens patriae, could try to help and try to rehabilitate people under age eighteen if there remained any potential in these people. Congress created a system of rights and protection for those under eighteen but a system where some could be denied that assistance and those protections arbitrarily with no assurance that they were being excluded for the reasons intended by Congress. Therefore, this section of that statute is invalid as violative of basic due process.
In Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970), the Supreme Court ruled that a state could not cut off welfare funds without adequate notice and a prior hearing at which the welfare recipient could have the assistance of counsel, with the decision maker stating his reasons and indicating the evidence upon which he relied for his decision. Applying Goldberg, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Jones v. Robinson, 440 F.2d 249 (1971), ruled that a patient, who was being transferred to the maximum security section of Saint Elizabeth's Hospital because he had been accused of a crime, must "be afforded elemental due process 'tailored to the capacities and circumstances of those who are to be heard,'" 440 F.2d at 250, quoting from Goldberg, 397 U.S. at 268-269, 90 S. Ct. 1011. The District of Columbia Circuit held that "because of the consequences of that decision [to place the patient in a maximum security section] to patients like appellant, some minimal degree of due process is required in order to make as certain as the hospital authorities reasonably can the correctness of their decision." 440 F.2d at 251.
Without a doubt, the consequences of a sixteen-year-old defendant being tried as an adult rather than being treated as a "child" are more severe than a welfare cut-off or a transfer within a mental institution. In the instant case, for example, it may mean the difference between life imprisonment and five years. That stage in any proceedings when this adult-or-child decision is made is as "critically important" whether the decision is made by the Family Division or by the United States Attorney. "[There] is no place in our system of law for reaching a result of such tremendous consequences without ceremony -- without a hearing, without effective assistance of counsel, without a statement of reasons." Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 554, 86 S. Ct. 1045, 1053, 16 L. Ed. 2d 84 (1966).
Surely nothing less can be expected under a new Congressional statute for the nation's capital. The determination that a child should be tried as an adult cannot be made without the safeguard of basic due process. Without a provision in the new statute that would require some determination, reached after a fair hearing, that an individual is beyond the help of the Family Division, that statute must fall as violative of due process.
The Government's memorandum contends that:
Congress has generally defined [the class of individuals over whom the Family Division is to have jurisdiction] as meaning an individual who is under eighteen years of age except those individuals who are at least sixteen years of age and charged with specifically enumerated crimes by the United States Attorney. Thus, any individual who does not meet these specific qualifications is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Family Division of the Superior Court and will be tried as an adult in the appropriate criminal court within the District of Columbia."
Opposition to the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment at 2. But this is not the case in actuality. Congress has not set specific qualifications. Instead it has provided for an arbitrary transfer of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds based only upon the United States Attorney's unfettered discretion. The statute in question does not assure that every sixteen- or seventeen-year-old arrested for one of the enumerated offenses will be tried in an appropriate criminal court. As it stands, the statute allows for Family Division treatment or adult criminal trial with no absolute requirement of one or the other.
This statute does not operate automatically. Congress, despite its intentions, has not made disposition of all the enumerated offenses non-juvenile without exception, nor has it excluded all hardened criminals from this new juvenile system; rather, Congress has left the method for disposition of the enumerated offenses up to the unbridled discretion of the United States Attorney. This is completely inconsistent with the Congressional intent and due process of law.
This Court, then, is not interfering with prosecutorial discretion but rather is ruling that a statute which creates a class of protected people and excepts from that protection an amorphous group of people in such a way that a person can be denied the statutory protection for the class to which he belongs, not by an Act of Congress, but by what can be completely arbitrary action of the United States Attorney is invalid. This lack of any standard as to which individuals should be so charged so as to exclude them from the protection of the Family Division is a denial of due process as to those individuals and cannot stand.
Because that section of the District of Columbia Code which authorizes the exclusion of Jerome T. Bland from the Family Division of the Superior Court is invalid as violative of due process of law, this Court is without jurisdiction over this sixteen-year-old until such time as a proper determination has been made as to the reasonable prospects of rehabilitating this child before his majority in compliance with the transfer provisions of D.C. Code § 16-2307 (Supp. IV, 1971). It is, therefore, by the Court this 28th day of July, 1971,
Ordered, that the indictment against Jerome T. Bland in this case be and hereby is dismissed.