The state Supreme Court on Monday ruled that juveniles convicted of violent crimes are ineligible for probation regardless of whether their case was transferred from juvenile court or directly filed to district court.
Nevik Howard was 16 years old when his charges of first degree assault and criminal trespass from a stabbing incident transferred from juvenile court to district court. A jury convicted Howard, and he pointed out that he would receive a harsher, mandatory minimum punishment because of his transfer than he would if prosecutors had directly filed his case to the district court. That, said Howard, violated his right to equal protection under the law.
The court conceded his point, but concluded that the transfer status still made him ineligible to receive probation. Howard ultimately received a six-year sentence in youth offender services. The Colorado Court of Appeals sided against Howard, saying that his equal protection argument did not apply. He did not, the court decided, have the criminal record that a juvenile eligible for direct-file charges would need to have.
Direct file is only available to juvenile offenders who are 16 or older, have committed certain felonies or sex offenses, and had prior charges before a district court.
Justice Brian D. Boatright, writing for the Supreme Court, upheld the appeals court’s decision, but for a different reason: there is no probation eligibility for any juvenile convicted of a crime of violence, no matter how their case was filed.
“The crime of violence statute itself makes defendants subject to it ineligible for probation,” he wrote. “If the legislature intended for probation to be an option under the direct-file statute, it could have pointed to the probation sections in the Criminal Code.”
As to the mandatory minimum provision, Boatright's ruling did not take a position because of the lower court’s decision to not apply it. Under the mandatory minimum triggered by Howard’s transfer case, he would have received between 10 and 32 years in prison. Had the charges been direct-file, the 10-year minimum would not have applied.
The Supreme Court did acknowledge the discrepancy.
“As a result, a juvenile being treated as an adult with a felony record at the time of the offense would be subject to less time in prison than a juvenile who had a clean record even though they were convicted of the exact same offenses,” wrote Boatright.
The case is Nevik Dean Howard v. The People of the State of Colorado.
Editor's note: This article has been clarified to refer to probation only.