Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, December 20, 2010


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C.A.: Juvenile Charged With Sex Offense Entitled to Jury Trial

Jessica’s Law Residency Restrictions So Onerous as to Trigger Sixth Amendment Right, Panel Says




A juvenile facing severe residence restrictions under Jessica’s Law is entitled to a jury trial on the underlying sex offense, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

Justice Richard Aronson, writing for Div. Three Thursday, said the law banning registered sex offenders, including juveniles, from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park is so onerous that denying a jury trial to those charged in juvenile court violates their rights to equal protection and due process.

The panel overturned part of the court’s judgment adjudicating a now-21-year-old man, identified only as J.L., to be a sex offender. The justices said the Orange Superior Court must either provide him with a jury trial on the allegations that he molested three cousins when he was between 11 and 17 years old—the children were between the ages of four and 10 at the time of the incidents, they testified—or lift the residence restrictions.

J.L. denied the allegations, claiming they were concocted because of a feud between his mother and her sisters. Superior Court Judge Donna Crandall ruled the charges were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and committed J.L. to the Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly the California Youth Authority.

Lifetime Restrictions

As a sex offender, he is subject to a lifetime registration requirement and possible civil commitment as a sexually violent predator at some time in the future, as well as to the residential restrictions, which effectively bar him from living in much of urban California.

The defense argued on appeal that those consequences are punitive rather than rehabilitative in nature, so that the traditional rationale for denying jury trials in juvenile court does not apply.

Aronson, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the panel was bound by California Supreme Court rulings that the registration requirement and the possibility of civil commitment are not punitive. But the residency restrictions are different, he said.

The justice distinguished McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971) 403 U.S. 528, in which the court held that juveniles may be tried without juries, in closed proceedings, and committed to institutions for youthful offenders.

Aronson wrote:

“In McKeiver, the Supreme Court held the right to a jury trial does not generally apply in juvenile delinquency adjudications.  The Attorney General relies on McKeiver’s holding as a blanket proposition that the right is never constitutionally required under any circumstances in a delinquency matter. But the McKeiver plurality expressly recognized ‘disillusionment’ might ‘come one day’ concerning trial of a juvenile without a jury....We conclude that day is here for imposition of Jessica’s Law’s punitive lifetime residency restrictions.”

Broad Swath

The justice cited a law review article reporting that under Jessica’s Law, registered sex offenders are banned “from residing in half of the Sacramento urban area, nearly seventy percent of the San Francisco Bay area, and about seventy-five percent of the Los Angeles metro area.” He further noted that there are no exceptions based on the offender’s age, his having reached majority, the characteristics of the offense, or rehabilitation.

The residency restrictions, he went on to say, have even harsher consequences for juveniles than adults, because they impact not only the offender, but his entire family, which “faces a Hobson’s choice of moving to what may only be few areas outside every exclusion radius, or else to abdicate all parental responsibility and oust the juvenile to live in these areas without their oversight.”

The justice noted that the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the state’s juvenile courts, as a result of a series of legislative changes, so closely resembled the adult criminal justice system that its rehabilitative purpose had eroded, so that jury trials were required in all delinquency proceedings.

“We express no such disillusionment with our state’s juvenile adjudicatory system,” Aronson wrote. “...Instead, we pass only on the precise dispositional consequences before us, including the ‘overwhelmingly punitive’ residence restrictions....Because a disposition resulting in lifetime residency restrictions is, unlike the dispositions in McKeiver, so patently punitive, we conclude McKeiver and similar precedent are not controlling.  None of the rationales expressed in McKeiver support denying the right to a jury trial here, but to the contrary, support it.”

Justice Raymond Ikola and Presiding Justice David Sills concurred in the opinion.

The case is In re J.L., 10 S.O.S. 6973.


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