In a recent case, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the dismissal of a juvenile defendant’s Murder dismissal, but also establishing new parameters in murder cases involving juvenile defendants who are to be tried as adults.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Javon Walczak, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether the trial court properly dismissed an indictment against the juvenile defendant who was charged with Second Degree Murder. The prosecution had presented evidence that the defendant, who was 16 at the time, stabbed the victim (Rene Valdez) when the victim and an accomplice tried to rob him.
Following the defendant’s arraignment in the Superior Court, a judge dismissed the indictment because the Commonwealth failed to present sufficient evidence to the grand jury establishing the offense of second degree murder.
Although the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial judge’s findings and held that there was, in fact, probable cause for the charge of second degree murder, the court also held that the grand jury should have been instructed by the prosecution on the elements of murder, as well as the legal significance of mitigating circumstances raised by the evidence.
The Court specifically held that:
“In any case where the Commonwealth seeks to indict a juvenile for murder, the grand jury must be properly instructed by the prosecutor on the elements of murder, and if there are mitigating circumstances and defenses…raised by the evidence, the grand jury must be instructed as to that as well.”
The basis for the court’s ruling is that, unlike other crimes, a murder indictment against a juvenile adds significant other consequences, including the case being tried in the superior court, whereas for any other crime he would be tried in the juvenile court.
Presently, the Massachusetts criminal justice system treats juvenile defendants in one of three ways:
If a juvenile is charged by way of a complaint, he may be committed to the Department of Youth Services until the age of 18;
If a juvenile is charged by way of an indictment, he may be classified as a youthful offender and face more severe penalties than a juvenile tried as a delinquent, including the sentence that would be applicable to an adult defendant charged with the same crime;
In circumstances where the juvenile is charged with murder, however, both of these above are inapplicable because the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction over a person between the ages of 14 and 17 and the juvenile defendant indicted for murder must be tried according to the same criminal proceedings as if he were an adult.
For these reasons, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the grand jury must be presented with the elements of the crime and be apprised of any mitigating circumstances to ensure that the integrity of the grand jury process is maintained.
Boston Criminal Appeals Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Post-Conviction and Appeals.
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