Is a Crime Committed as a Juvenile Invisible as an Adult?

There is common misunderstanding that all juvenile adjudications (commonly, but incorrectly called convictions) will be confidential for all purposes, sealed and destroyed.

This is untrue on many levels.  First, while some juvenile adjudications may be sealed and destroyed to bar an employer (or a neighbor) from looking at the physical file contents, the electronic record of it remains forever.  Moreover, certain adjudications are not eligible for such relief until the individual reaches age 38.  Other convictions may never be sealed and destroyed.

A jury convicted Magdaleno Salazar of the first degree murder of Enrique Guevara, with personal use of a firearm.  Salazar, an adult, admitted the truth of the special circumstances that he had a prior murder conviction as a minor (he was tried as an adult).  After the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death and the judge imposed that sentence.

Salazar appealed the sentence, alleging the prosecution was barred by the Eighth Amendment from using his prior conviction, suffered when he was 17 years old but tried as an adult.  While conceding that such prior violent conduct by a juvenile, including murder, can be considered in the penalty phase as an aggravating circumstance, he argued that an aggravating factor is distinguishable under Penal Code § 190.3(b) from a special circumstance for murder under Penal Code § 190.2(a)(2).  Moreover, he argued, the existence of a special circumstance only serves a narrowing function in determining eligibility for the death penalty.  An aggravating factor, in contrast, is only part of an individualized penalty determination.  This academic distinction seems to have some merit, we think.

Salazar then asked the court (this article is a summary of California Supreme Court opinion at 2016 DJDAR 5093) to apply the Eighth Amendment’s ban on imposing the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles. Roger v. Simmons (2005) 543 U.S. 551.  Salazar framed his argument as saying Roper and the Eighth Amendment barred the state from seeking the death penalty “[s]olely on the basis of a crime committed while still a minor.”

The California Supreme Court responded to this argument by writing that, “the flaw in this argument is that defendant did not face the death penalty as punishment for the crime he committed as a juvenile.”  He instead faced the penalty for murdering Guevara when he was an adult, having suffered a prior murder conviction.

Moreover, Roper only spoke to punishment for juvenile offenses, and “adults who commit first degree murder despite having a previous murder conviction, whether or not the prior offense occurred when they were juveniles, are a distinct subclass of murderers that can “with reliability be classified among the worst offenders.”  Roper, supra, 543 U.S. at 569.

Furthermore, the California Supreme Court noted that Salazar offered no persuasive reason why it should be constitutional for a jury to consider a murder committed as a juvenile for its penalty determination, but unconstitutional for the state to include such murders as a prior-conviction special circumstance.  In both situations, the prior conduct only serves as a guiding consideration.

In fact, in People v. Pride (1992) 3 Cal. 4th 195, the California Supreme Court noted that basing an aggravating factor on a conviction committed as a juvenile did not amount to added punishment for the prior crime.  Rather, the jury was properly allowed to weight the fact that the defendant committed the capital crime undeterred by his prior conviction (Id. at 257).

Turning to legislative intent, the California Supreme court held that it does not violate the Eighth Amendment for the legislature to conclude, as a matter of policy, that an adult who murdered as a juvenile, failed to learn from that experience and killed yet again, is a person “within the narrowed class of murderers for whom death would be an appropriate penalty.”  People v. Bacigalupo (1993) 6 Cal. 4th 457, 468.

In short, the punishment ordered was affirmed.  The death penalty was not imposed for the past conduct.  Instead, it was imposed for current conduct, but based on defendant’s criminal history. 

For more information about , please click on the following articles:
  1. If My Juvenile Record of a Felony Is Reduced to a Misdemeanor, Does This Mean It Is Eligible for Sealing and Destruction?
  2. Adult Convicted of Resisting Arrest May Not Serve Sentence in County Jail Because of Juvenile Strike
  3. Underage DUI Is Not Similar to a Juvenile Offense for Sentencing in a Later Drug Case
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