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In the Interest of: E.M.L., Appellant, v. JUVENILE OFFICER, Respondent.
E.M.L. appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri (“juvenile court”),1 sustaining the allegations that E.M.L. had committed what would have been Murder in the First Degree, section 565.020,2 and Armed Criminal Action, section 571.015, had E.M.L. been an adult and committing her to the custody of the Division of Youth Services. On appeal, E.M.L. claims that the juvenile court erred in denying her request for a jury trial in that both the Missouri Constitution and the United States Constitution guarantee juveniles charged with serious offenses the right to a jury trial. We affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.
Factual and Procedural Background
The facts as determined in the underlying juvenile proceedings are largely irrelevant to this appeal. When E.M.L. was fifteen years old she stabbed her father to death. She alleged this occurred after he tried to sexually assault her. E.M.L., whom the Juvenile Officer (“JO”) alleged to have committed the offenses of Murder in the First Degree and Armed Criminal Action had she been an adult,3 had an adjudication hearing on February 8 and 9, 2022. Originally, JO filed a motion to dismiss the juvenile cause of action and certify E.M.L. as an adult. Subsequently, the JO informed the juvenile court that it would not seek certification to try E.M.L. as an adult in part due to the prosecuting attorney's determination that criminal charges would not be filed against E.M.L. if the court did certify her as an adult. Before the adjudication, E.M.L. filed a motion to have E.M.L.’s adjudication determined by a jury. E.M.L. argued that she had a right to a jury trial under both the Missouri Constitution and the United States Constitution. The juvenile court denied E.M.L.’s motion and proceeded with a bench trial. The juvenile court sustained the allegations against E.M.L. on two offenses, and committed her to the custody of the Division of Youth Services. This appeal follows.
Standard of Review
We review juvenile proceedings in the same manner as we review other court-tried cases. C.A.R.A. v. Jackson Cty. Juvenile Office, 637 S.W.3d 50, 54 (Mo. banc 2022). “This Court will affirm a judgment in a juvenile proceeding unless it is not supported by evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously applies the law.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). Whether a litigant has suffered a violation of her constitutional rights is a question of law, which this Court reviews de novo. Id.
E.M.L. raises two points on appeal, both pertaining to the juvenile court's denial of her motion for a jury to determine her adjudication. She alleges in Point I that the juvenile court's ruling violated her rights under the Missouri Constitution, and in Point II that the ruling violated her rights under the United States Constitution. We find that the law is settled as to both points, and they are therefore denied.
As E.M.L. points out, Article I, section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution of 1820 provided, “[T]he right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate[.]” E.M.L. argues that because juveniles in 1820 were treated as adults inasmuch as they would have been tried for serious crimes just like adults and would, therefore, have been entitled to a jury trial, E.M.L. reasons that the Missouri Constitution provides her with a right to a jury trial, even in the juvenile court. This precise argument was rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court in State v. Heath, 352 Mo. 1147, 181 S.W.2d 517, 519 (1944). Heath holds, “[I]t should be remembered that a proceeding against a child alleged to be delinquent is an exercise of the state's power, as parens patriae, for the reformation of the child, and not for punishment of the child, as in a criminal proceeding, and that the constitutional guaranties respecting a defendant in a criminal case do not apply in a delinquency case.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). The opinion continues, “Of course, if a child under the age of [then] seventeen is charged under the criminal statutes with the violation of a criminal statute, he is entitled to a trial by jury” under the law. Id.
Although E.M.L. is correct that the various applicable statutes have changed since 1944 when Heath was decided, the Missouri Supreme Court and various appellate court opinions have consistently held that juveniles are not entitled to a jury trial for certifications or adjudications in the juvenile courts under applicable Missouri law. See, e.g., In the Interest of Fisher, 468 S.W.2d 198, 202 (Mo. 1971); In the Interest of P.A.M., 606 S.W.2d 449, 456 (Mo. App. W.D. 1980); State v. Andrews, 329 S.W.3d 369, 376 (Mo. banc 2010). In the Interest of P.A.M. cites Heath with approval, and in Andrews, the Missouri Supreme Court reiterates that only after certification as an adult is a defendant “entitled to the right to a jury trial under both the United States and Missouri constitutions.” 329 S.W.3d at 376. E.M.L. disagrees with the analysis of Andrews, yet “[a] claim that the Missouri Supreme Court has incorrectly decided a previous case or cases is not cognizable in the Missouri Court of Appeals.” Doe v. Catholic Diocese of Kan. City-St. Joseph, 432 S.W.3d 213, 219 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014), (quoting Independence-Nat. Educ. Ass'n v. Independence Sch. Dist., 162 S.W.3d 18, 21 (Mo. App. W.D. 2005)). We are bound by the most recent Supreme Court decision and are not free to grant relief contrary to Missouri Supreme Court statement of the law. Point I is denied.
United States Constitution:
Similarly, in Point II of her appeal, E.M.L. claims that the United States Constitution, specifically the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, guarantee her a right to a jury trial, even in juvenile court, notwithstanding the United States Supreme Court ruling to the contrary in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 91 S.Ct. 1976, 29 L.Ed.2d 647 (1971). McKeiver expressly held that juveniles in juvenile court are not entitled to a jury trial. Id. at 545, 91 S.Ct. 1976 (“[W]e conclude that trial by jury in the juvenile court's adjudicative stage is not a constitutional requirement.”).
E.M.L. cites Ramos v. Louisiana, ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S.Ct. 1390, 206 L.Ed.2d 583 (2020), in support of her position, noting that Ramos abrogated Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404, 92 S.Ct. 1628, 32 L.Ed.2d 184 (1972) and Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356, 92 S.Ct. 1620, 32 L.Ed.2d 152 (1972) and held that, contrary to those cases, jury verdicts in criminal trials must be unanimous. However, Ramos does not claim to have any effect on McKeiver, and we reject her argument that McKeiver is no longer good law following Ramos. The McKeiver case summarizes the body of Supreme Court precedent relating to juveniles, finding that, while due process applies to juveniles in juvenile court, see Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596, 68 S.Ct. 302, 92 L.Ed. 224 (1948); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967), and therefore juveniles enjoy the rights “to appropriate notice, to counsel, to confrontation and cross-examination, ․ the privilege against self-incrimination[,] and the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt[,]” McKeiver, 403 U.S. at 533, 91 S.Ct. 1976, the Court had specifically refrained from declaring that “all rights constitutionally assured to an adult accused of a crime also are to be enforced or made available to the juvenile in his delinquency proceeding.” Id. It then expressly held that juveniles were not entitled to a jury trial unless they were tried as adults in criminal court. Id. at 545, 91 S.Ct. 1976. We conclude that if the Supreme Court had intended to overrule McKeiver in Ramos it would have done so expressly, and we reject any argument that it overruled McKeiver by implication. It did not, and we therefore hold that the juvenile court's denial of E.M.L.’s motion for jury trial did not violate her federal constitutional rights. Point II is denied.
For all of the above-stated reasons, we find no error, and we affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.
1. We use the term “juvenile court,” even though the juvenile division is not a separate court but is instead a division of the circuit court, because the term “juvenile court” is defined in chapter 211 to refer to the “court” with statutory authority to adjudicate offenses committed by a “child” as defined in that chapter. In the Interest of J.N.W. v. Juvenile Officer, 643 S.W.3d 618, 623 n.1 (Mo. App. W.D. 2022).
2. All statutory references are to the Revised Statutes of Missouri (2016), as updated by supplement.
3. There were originally two additional counts against E.M.L., but the Juvenile Officer voluntarily dismissed one count, and the juvenile court did not sustain the fourth allegation against E.M.L.
Gary D. Witt, Judge
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Docket No: WD 85316
Decided: June 27, 2023
Court: Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.
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