Viewpoint: Certification of juveniles to adult court requires careful thought
Sometimes, when a minor allegedly commits a crime, the law provides that society’s interests are better met by treating the juvenile as an adult. This process is known as “certification.” Minnesota law has rules to decide when a juvenile is certified to be treated as an adult. In Minnesota, a child as young as 14 could be certified to adult court.
First, it is important to understand that juvenile court and adult court have different goals. Both establish rules to protect the rights of those accused of crimes. However, if guilt is proven, the courts differ on how to treat the offender.
The primary goal in adult court is to protect public safety. This goal is met by imposing punishment on the offender and, to the extent possible, by making the victim whole. In juvenile court, the primary goals are to rehabilitate and protect the juvenile offender. Juvenile courts focus on the child’s best interests so as to help and assist the juvenile to become a productive and law-abiding member of society. Punishments can be imposed in juvenile court but only to the extent that they also advance these primary goals.
There are two types of certifications of minors to adult court — presumptive and non-presumptive.
Our law presumes that a 16- or 17-year-old child will be certified to adult court if there is probable cause to believe that the child either committed a felony, which would presumptively send an adult to prison, or committed a felony while using a firearm.
In a presumptive certification case, the matter will be handled in adult court unless the child can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that keeping the case in juvenile court will serve the interests of public safety.
If the law does not presume certification, then the state must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that keeping the matter in juvenile court will not serve society’s public safety interests.
Before making a certification decision judges must consider a variety of factors related to public safety. Those factors include: the seriousness of the alleged offense, the child’s prior record, the level of the child’s participation in planning and carrying out the alleged offense, the adequacy of punishment or programming in the juvenile system, and the child’s past willingness to meaningfully participate in programming.
The term “programming” essentially means treatment. Programming may relate to alcohol or drug use, mental health care, anger management, or a variety of other things.
Minnesota law mandates that greater weight must be given to the seriousness of the alleged offense and the child’s record than the other factors. This emphasizes the law’s primary focus on protecting the public.
When a judge gets a certification case it typically means that something very serious has happened. Judges then decide which of the competing public policy goals represents the correct path to follow in the case. For these reasons, certification decisions require a lot of careful thought and consideration.
Judge Greg Galler is chambered in Washington County.