Using Juvenile Adjudications for Sentence Enhancement Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Is It Sound Policy?

30 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2014 Last revised: 30 May 2014

Date Written: 2002

Abstract

The juvenile justice system was originally designed to be a rehabilitative forum separate from the adult criminal justice system. The distinction between the two systems has become blurred, however, as juvenile court proceedings increasingly resemble criminal prosecutions. Additionally, juvenile offenses now have collateral consequences in adulthood. For instance, in some states with "three strikes" legislation, a defendant with two previous juvenile adjudications could be sentenced to life in prison for his or her first adult criminal offense. A juvenile adjudication often impacts the sentence imposed for a state or federal criminal conviction. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (hereinafter "Guidelines"), prior criminal convictions and juvenile delinquency adjudications are included in the computation of the criminal history score, which is one of the two axes of the sentencing matrix in the Guidelines. Yet, because of the significant differences between the juvenile and criminal courts, juvenile adjudications often lack the same level of reliability as criminal convictions. Given their reduced reliability, the use of juvenile adjudications for sentence enhancement offends fundamental fairness and reduces the effectiveness of the Guidelines, which were designed to achieve "a more honest, uniform, equitable, proportional, and therefore effective sentencing system" by proportionately reflecting the severity of criminal conduct and reducing the disparity of sentences imposed on similarly situated offenders. Injecting unreliable and widely disparate juvenile adjudications into sentencing determinations defeats these goals. Therefore, this article asserts that except under narrowly drawn circumstances, juvenile adjudications should not be used in calculating the criminal history score under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The structure of this argument is broken down into six sections. Part I of this article reviews case law on the use of criminal convictions in sentencing enhancement. Part II reviews case law on the use of juvenile adjudications in sentencing enhancement. Part III discusses the reduced level of due process and reliability inherent in many juvenile adjudications. Part IV discusses the equal protection concerns arising from racial disparities in adjudication and jurisdictional variations in the expunging of juvenile records. Part V argues that the potential use of juvenile adjudications for later sentencing enhancement provides conflicting and negative incentives for defense counsel representing juveniles in juvenile court. It concludes with legal reform proposals for the use of juvenile adjudications in sentencing enhancement under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Keywords: juvenile law, juvenile adjudications, juvenile offenders, juvenile justice, criminal justice, collateral consequences, sentencing, sentencing guidelines, rehabilitative

Suggested Citation

Redding, Richard E., Using Juvenile Adjudications for Sentence Enhancement Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Is It Sound Policy? (2002). Richard E. Redding. "Using Juvenile Adjudications for Sentence Enhancement Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Is It Sound Policy?" Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law 10 (2002): 231-260., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2387709

Richard E. Redding (Contact Author)

Chapman University ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2688 (Phone)
714-628-2564 (Fax)

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