Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, January 23, 2009


Page 1


S.C.: State May Charge Juvenile With Immigration Offense




State courts may adjudicate a delinquency proceeding in which a juvenile is accused of violating a federal statute, including an immigration law, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

In a unanimous decision, the high court upheld lower court rulings declaring a then-16-year-old boy to be a ward of the juvenile court based on a finding that he committed a federal crime by bringing undocumented aliens into the United States.

“Whether delinquency proceedings are treated as civil or criminal, the determinations they entail — whether a minor should be declared a ward of the court and what juvenile treatment and rehabilitation he or she should be afforded — do not trench on exclusive federal court prerogatives to try, convict, and punish for the violation of federal law,” Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote. “To the contrary, Congress, recognizing no comparable federal system exists, has made clear its preference that offenses by minors be handled, whenever possible, by state juvenile courts.”

Jose C., as the court identified him, was arrested by the Border Patrol in August 2006, after agents tracked footprints across the border into the desert near Calexico. Jose and several other persons were spotted hiding in bushes by an agent in a helicopter.

Jose and six others were detained by an agent on the ground. It was subsequently determined that the other six were aliens and had not presented themselves at the border.

Two of the aliens testified that they had made arrangements to cross the border, and had agreed to pay $1,800 once in the United States. Jose, they said, acted as their guide during the crossing, communicating with someone—who was apparently looking out for immigration agents—via cellphone.

Imperial Superior Court Judge William Lehman ruled that he had jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 602, which allows juvenile courts to hear the case of any minor who has violated “any law of this state or of the United States or any ordinance.” He found Jose in violation of the statute and placed him on formal probation, with 58 days credit for the time he spent in juvenile hall.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed.

The lower courts were correct, Werdegar wrote, because the Supremacy Clause and federal statutes do not preempt states from incorporating federal offenses into their juvenile justice schemes.

Juvenile proceedings, she explained, are civil in nature and thus analogous to state RICO, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, proceedings. The Supreme Court has held that states may enact and enforce their own RICO laws, even where the violation of a federal statute is a prerequisite to the finding of a civil RICO violation, Werdegar noted.

Even if California delinquency proceedings are considered criminal, she added, the state has the sovereign power to criminalize conduct that is also criminal under federal law.

Wedegar also rejected the argument that the application of the juvenile delinquency statutes to an immigration violation is inconsistent with the federal government’s constitutional authority over immigration.

“While it is well settled that only the federal government may regulate the border and establish rules governing who may enter and who may stay, equally clear is that Congress has in its immigration enactments embraced a model of collaborative federalism under which states and localities may assist in the enforcement of federal immigration policy,” the justice wrote.

Werdegar noted that Congress has not expressly divested states of jurisdiction over “immigration generally or alien smuggling in particular,” and that there is no conflict between Sec. 602 and federal law, since Sec. 602 incorporates federal law.

Nor, she said, can congressional intent to preempt application of state juvenile justice laws to the crime of alien smuggling be implied from the broad sweep of federal law. “A series of provisions in the [Immigration and Nationality Act] demonstrate Congress, far from occupying the field, welcomed state and local assistance in enforcement,” Werdegar explained.

She noted that the act allows all criminal law enforcement officers to arrest those involved in alien smuggling and allows states and localities to investigate immigration violations and arrest violators pursuant to agreements with the U.S. attorney general or immigration commissioner, and allows state authorities to cooperate with immigration authorities even in the absence of a written agreement.

Beyond that, the justice noted, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 5032, with exceptions not relevant to Jose’s case, creates a presumption in favor of having cases handled in state court when a juvenile is accused of a federal crime.

The case is In re Jose C., 08 S.O.S. 368.


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